Constipation occurs when the feces are dry and hard, and difficult to expel from the body. Constipation may cause abdominal cramping or bloating, flatulence, and loud tummy noises. Constipation can also lead to excessive straining which in turn may lead to hemorrhoids or anal fissures.
The Digestive (Gastrointestinal or GI) Tract
Digestion is something like a liquid waste management system. According to WebMD, the digestive tract contains organs designed to mix food with water and chemicals. This mixture of food, water, and chemicals, helps "push" the food through the body.
The organs in the digestive tract are hollow tubes lined with strong muscles that push food particles down the digestive tract. These contractions are called peristalsis. Two essential ingredients for peristalsis are liquids and fiber.
What Causes Constipation?
In order for our digestive systems to work properly, we need to drink lots of water and engage in good dietary habits. Poor diet and dehydration are two of the more common reasons people become constipated. Other reasons include infection, hormone imbalance, and stress. Medication side effects and/or immobility may also cause constipation.
Good Dietary Habits
Fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grain cereals and breads help move wastes along through the bowels. Drinking lots of water helps to soften the stools and maintain regularity. Too much fat in the diet is difficult on the digestive system-in fact; we may often experience cramping immediately following a rich meal or after eating too many brownies.
Liquids are necessary for proper digestion. Maintaining the right balance of liquids in the body is essential; replacing fluids lost by fever, sweat, diarrhea, or dehydration is essential.
Constipation & Aging
Dental problems and dry mouth may interfere with chewing and swallowing in seniors, which may affect their ability to properly digest food. Dry mouth is a side effect of many medications; and medications may also change the way the body absorbs water. As we age, we sometimes lack the ability to determine whether our quench for thirst was satisfied, so dehydration may be a problem. Keep all of these factors in mind when caring for an elderly loved one, and be sure to check with your healthcare professional about a proper diet and adequate liquids.
Medical conditions such as a narrowing of the intestines or rectum make it difficult for feces to pass. Check with your doctor or other healthcare professional about special dietary needs for loved ones with diverticulitis or other intestinal conditions.
Complications Associated with Constipation
If you or your loved one develops constipation, be sure to drink lots of water (and make sure your loved one drinks lots of water) to ease cramping. Also, remember to be patient. Straining and pushing may cause tears in the anal cavity which can lead to painful infection.
Eat Well, Drink Water, & Be Active
A healthy lifestyle is a good bet for dealing with constipation. Eating vegetables and foods rich in dietary fiber and ensuring that you and your loved ones drink enough water is key to maintaining digestive health. A walk around the block after a meal helps us digest. Walking also offers an opportunity to chat with friends and family while getting some exercise.
Many over-the-counter products contain materials to add bulk and fiber to the digestive tract, soften the stools, or speed up the digestive process. Your pharmacist, doctor, or other healthcare professional can help you select the best remedy for your particular problem.
Be ready to give details on your diet and symptoms to get the best results and by all means, consult with your physician if the problem persists.