Article

Constipation in Adults



Being constipated can be stressful. It is often hard to know what to do. Constipation can cause you to have stomach pain, bloating, gas and poor appetite. For many people, constipation problems happen from time to time and then go away. By following a few tips, you can help prevent constipation and promote regular bowel movements.

What is constipation?

Constipation is when you do not have bowel movements regularly. When you do have a bowel movement, it is often dry, hard, difficult to pass and may be painful. 

What causes constipation?

There are many different reasons for constipation. Some reasons may include:

  • Not enough fibre or fluids 
  • Not enough physical activity
  • Changes in toilet routines (for example, when going on vacation)
  • Not going to the washroom when you have the urge
  • Not using laxatives properly
  • Some medications or supplements  

How is constipation treated?

The tips below may help ease the symptoms of constipation.

Follow a high fibre diet. High fibre foods help your stools stay soft by holding on to liquid. When increasing fibre in your diet, do it slowly so that your digestive system can get used to it. Try the tips below:

  • Check Canada’s Food Guide to find out how many servings of fibre-rich vegetables, fruit and grains you need
  • Choose whole vegetables and fruits instead of juice
  • Add fresh or frozen berries to cereal and yogurt
  • Choose whole grain breads that have at least 2 grams of fibre per slice 
  • Use high fibre cereal like bran with at least 4 grams of fibre per serving
  • Add dried fruits to yogurt, salads and homemade muffins
  • Add lentils or beans to soups, casseroles and salads

Drink enough fluids as you increase the amount of fibre you eat. Fluids help you to digest foods and help to keep your bowels regular. Fluids can include water, milk, tea, coffee and soup. Read Facts on Fluids - How to stay hydrated to learn how much fluid you need. 

Be physically active. Adults aged 18 to 64 should aim for 2 ½ hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. You can be active for as little as 10 minutes at a time. Some examples of ways to get active include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Bike riding
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Raking leaves and
  • Skating

Schedule a regular time to go to the bathroom. Make sure you don’t have to rush so that you can have a bowel movement without stress. This will help your body get into a routine.

Should I take dairy out of my diet?

No. In general, no one food causes constipation. Taking dairy out of your diet is not necessary.

Should I take probiotics?

No. Currently, there is not enough research to show that probiotics help with constipation.

Should I take laxatives?

It is important to speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking laxatives. If you take laxatives, always follow the instructions for the dose and the amount of time you should be taking them. Make sure you drink enough fluids as well.

Should I eat prunes or drink prune juice?

It is all right to eat prunes or drink prune juice if you are constipated. Prunes, pears and apples have a natural ingredient in them that can help you with constipation. Prunes and prune juice should only be used once in a while. Start by increasing the amount of fibre and fluids in your diet and by being physically active.

When should I go to the doctor?

See your doctor if you:

  • Are concerned about your constipation
  • Have a sudden change in bowel movements
  • Plan on taking laxatives or
  • Take medications that can cause constipation and dietary changes do not help

Bottom line

Constipation can happen for many reasons. Constipation can often be eased by adding more fibre and fluids to your diet and being physically active. See your doctor if you are concerned about your constipation or have a sudden change in bowel movements.

For more tips on how to promote healthy digestion, read Tips for Healthy Digestion

If you have more questions or would like a handout about constipation or how to increase fibre, call an EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian at 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.

Last Update – July 27, 2017

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