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Your Health: Constipation

Body & Soul has partnered with Johns Hopkins Medical Centre to provide you with answers to questions you have about your health. This week Linda Lee, Director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center responds to a Body & Soul reader’s question on constipation.

Q: I’m 50 and have been suffering with very hard stools recently. I also often feel heaviness in my intestinal area. What do you think is causing this? I haven’t made any major changes to my diet. Also, I’ve been eating oatmeal every day and I’m sure I get a lot of fibre.

A: The passage of hard stools is a sign of constipation even if when there is a bowel movement every day. Other symptoms of constipation include the need to strain when initiating or completing a bowel movement, and/or a feeling of not being completely evacuated. Constipation can lead to a sense of heaviness or bloating in the abdominal area.

Hard stools may develop if the transit of the stool within the colon is slow. Because the cells lining the colon are very efficient at removing water from the stool, the longer stool stays in the colon, the more water is absorbed, resulting in a hard stool. In the mildest cases, drinking plenty of water and eating foods containing fiber can sometimes soften stools.

To get that benefit from food, the daily diet must contain at least 30 grams of fiber. One-third cup of dried oatmeal provides only 2.7 grams, so it is possible that although you are eating oatmeal and other foods with fiber, you are not reaching that 30-gram target.

With adequate fiber intake every day, less dryness in the stool should occur within seven to ten days. If there has been no improvement after eating fiber daily for at least two weeks, you may need an osmotic laxative. Magnesium-based laxatives, lactulose and PEG 3350 are examples of osmotic laxatives.

Osmotics work by drawing water from the colon to keep the stool soft and can be even more effective than increasing dietary fiber intake, particularly for those with moderate or severe constipation. Taking a dose every day will help make stools softer and, hopefully, easier to pass.

Most osmotic laxatives are safe to use on a daily basis if necessary and should produce results within seven to fourteen days. Be sure to consult your physician if you are experiencing abdominal or rectal pain, bleeding or unexplained weight loss.

If you have a question about your health that you would like answered, please email Cathy Stovell on gazettehealth@yahoo.com or call 236-0106. Your name will not be published.

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Published June 25, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 24, 2013 at 7:36 pm)

Your Health: Constipation

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