Almost 1 in 5 people in the United States experience constipation and temporary feelings of blockage, and data shows it only gets more prevalent as you age. That's a whole lot of pressure! There are about a hundred different ways your digestive system can end up feeling totally backed up, but it feels nearly impossible to find relief over a toilet bowl for those dealing with sudden constipation. If you've found yourself here, you might be wondering: Can I do anything to make myself go poop, like, right now? And is it safe to make yourself poop in the first place?
Great news: Yes! There are safe and healthy ways to reboot your digestive tract, so to speak, and resume regular movement in your intestines. Some solutions have been around for decades, cropping up as home remedies; others might be seemingly staring you in the face, and you just forgot you should be doing them!
Related: 6 sneaky reasons you can't poop
Here, Good Housekeeping has presented your pressing questions to a couple of experts who routinely help patients resume regular bowel movements. Clinton Snedegar, M.D., works as a gastroenterologist at the Rockford Gastroenterology Associates and a clinical professor at Rockford's University of Illinois College of Medicine, while Shilpa Ravella, M.D., serves as an assistant professor of medicine and gastroenterologist at Columbia University Medical Center. Together, they're sharing a few tips and tricks for jumpstarting your digestive system in the hopes of a successful trip to the bathroom real soon — some, in less than 24 hours.
Eat fibrous foods, ASAP:
"Americans in general don't get enough dietary fiber, but if you've started a new diet where you've excluded fiber-rich foods as part of a weight loss diet, this can also be problematic," Dr. Snedegar says. One diet in particular? The keto diet, which has earned notoriety for its tendency to cause dieters to become nearly instantly constipated due to a lack of fiber. If you haven't started a new diet, a few fiber-light meals can back things up, and eating two or three meals high in natural dietary fiber usually helps things move along. "Eating whole grains and increasing fibrous fruits or vegetables — everything from avocados to apples and chickpeas to sprouted grains — in your diet can be helpful," he adds.
Eat more foods rich in prebiotics, too:
Dairy kitchen staples, like cheese and milk or yogurt, can sometimes contain what's known as probiotics — but as Dr. Ravella explains, more probiotics aren't the key to relieving constipation, as some of these items may be devoid of fiber altogether (like dairy!). "You should focus on prebiotic foods, which feed gut bacteria and the probiotics that are already in your gut," she says, as prebiotics are undigestible forms of fiber that feed microorganism in your digestive system. Foods high in undigestible fiber include things like bananas, garlic, onions, artichokes, and chickpeas, Dr. Ravella says, which are good items to pair alongside other high sources of fiber ASAP.
Drink more water:
In addition to factoring in extra fiber into your diet, you should take a look at how much water you are drinking throughout the day. A well-known suggestion is to strive for at least 8 cups of water per day (if not more based on your level of activity) and if you're not even close to that amount, your intestines may be lacking hydration to soften stools, making it harder to use the bathroom. Focusing on increasing the amount of water you normally drink over the next few days could help restore normalcy: "Make sure you drink plenty of water and are well-hydrated," Dr. Snedegar adds.
Reach for prune juice:
Or even consume whole prunes, explains Dr. Ravella, since both are quite high in dietary insoluble fiber, which will pass quickly through your digestive track. There are other essential nutrients, naturally occurring sugars, and acids in prunes and prune juice that can help as well. "Prune juice (or prunes) is the classic high-fiber home remedy, and for good reason — for some people, it can be very effective," Dr. Senedgar says. Experts at the Mayo Clinic have previously recommended prune juice for this reason, but note that it may only temporarily ease symptoms, and you should see a care provider if your condition worsens.
Go for a walk:
"Exercise can be very effective at stimulating [intestinal] motility," Dr. Snedegar says. If you've been experiencing newfound constipation at a time when you've been cooped up indoors, or have been missing regular workouts, try going for a brisk walk, or breaking a sweat. Dr. Ravella adds that those who regularly exercise in their routines are more likely to have smoother trips to the bathroom, which is just another reason why you should factor in some physical time during the day.
Do some squats:
Believe it or not, a squat can help position your colon in such a way that makes it easier for your intestines to get things moving again: "Squatting improves the angle between the rectum and anus, and may help with a more relaxed and complete elimination," Dr. Ravella says. Doing frequent squats, alongside other forms of physical movement, could physically encourage movement in your bowels.
Buy a toilet stool:
You can mimic a squat while sitting on the toilet by ensuring your knees are as elevated above your stomach area as they can be. "Some people find instant relief using a small stool to support the feet and lift the legs while they are sitting on the toilet," Dr. Snedegar says. "This can help improve the angle of the pelvic floor to allow easier stool passage." While any object can be used to help elevate your legs, a toilet stool is designed to be stored beneath the bowl, and using it regularly may help bathroom trips that much easier over time.
Layoff the supplements:
Incorporating a new supplement into your routine, including those that seem totally safe and maybe even beneficial (think: calcium or iron, for example), may actually trip your digestive system into onset constipation. If you can't link your newfound blockage to any other reason, a new supplement may be to blame, Dr. Snedegar says — which is why you should discuss any new supplements with a doctor beforehand, as they may be able to prevent unnecessary side effects.
Supplements are more likely to be at fault, but medication can also be to blame: "Certain medications, particularly pain medications, blood pressure medicines, and antidepressants ... can cause constipation," Dr. Snedegar adds.
If all else fails, reach for a laxative.
Both doctors agree that laxatives may indeed lead you to poop in as little as a few hours' time, but choosing the right stimulant is important. Osmotic laxatives are your best option here, since research has found that they gently draw water into your colon to help soften your stools, making it easier to pass later on. "However, these should not be used for more than two weeks without input from your healthcare provider," Dr. Snedegar advises.
In addition to osmotic laxatives, stimulant laxatives are another over-the-counter product that react much more strongly in the gut, causing intestinal muscles to forcibly contract. Always be sure to take the recommended, prescribed amount of whichever kind of laxative you choose, as overdosing may lead to even worse side effects like diarrhea, flatulence, and severe abdominal cramps.
When should I stop trying solutions at home?
Dr. Snedegar explains that fleeting feelings of constipation — often characterized by visiting the restroom less, pain or discomfort in your abdomen, or bloating — is much different than what's known as "impassible" constipation. If feeling constipated is new for you, but you haven't been able to resume your regular tendencies for more than 4 weeks, you may be experiencing fecal impaction. This, Dr. Snedegar explains, is an urgent condition where you may be literally unable to poop: "This may cause severe pain or pelvic pressure, abdominal distention, bleeding, vomiting, and 'overflow' diarrhea," he adds. "In this situation, you should call your healthcare provider immediately."
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