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Constipation Myths: Know The Facts

Medically reviewed by Asma Khapra, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 8, 2023

Constipation is an uncomfortable health problem that many people are familiar with. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 people are affected by the condition, which can negatively impact quality of life and wellbeing. 


But there are many myths floating around on the topic of constipation. Since the subject can be difficult to discuss with friends or loved ones, how can you inform yourself in order to properly treat your symptoms? Here are some common constipation myths, along with the right answers.


Symptoms of constipation


Firstly, let’s take a look at the symptoms of constipation. Constipation generally results in:


  • Dry, hard stools
  • Straining during defecation
  • Inability to fully empty your bowel
  • Defecating less than three times a week


If you’ve been experiencing any of the above symptoms, you may be suffering from constipation.


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Constipation - Symptoms

Constipation - Symptoms

Myth: I should be having a bowel movement every day.


In reality, everyone has different bathroom needs. Some people need to have a bowel movement multiple times a day, while others only need to go four times a week. So how do you know if you’re constipated or just have infrequent bowel movements? Take a look at the above symptoms of constipation to be sure.


Myth: I shouldn’t use laxatives, since my body will build up a dependence.


Using certain laxatives, such as bulk formers, can be a good idea if you’re unable to have a bowel movement. They can encourage defecation and effectively treat constipation. However, some types of laxatives interfere with normal bowel function and can cause dependence. These are called stimulant laxatives and should be used with the advice of a doctor. 


Myth: Only a poor diet can cause constipation.


Eating lots of fatty meats, processed foods, and not enough fiber can in fact cause constipation. But the condition can also be caused by other factors, such as:


  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • An inflammatory bowel disease
  • Dehydration
  • Pregnancy
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Colon cancer


To pinpoint the exact cause of your constipation, it’s always best to discuss with your doctor.


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Constipation - Treatment

Constipation - Treatment

Myth: Enough water and fiber can cure constipation.


Not exactly. Yes, drinking water and eating high-fiber foods can prevent constipation. But that doesn’t mean you should start drinking gallons and gallons of water in hopes of stimulating a bowel movement or eating only things with high amounts of fiber. 


Instead, drink a normal amount of water (15 cups for men, 11 for women) throughout the day, and try to eat foods with both insoluble and soluble fiber. Both types of fiber can promote gastrointestinal health, but soluble fiber is most beneficial. 


Some foods with insoluble fiber include potatoes, nuts, while whole grains, while oats, apples, beans, and carrots are good sources of soluble fiber. 


Myth: Holding it in isn’t harmful.


Not acting on your body’s urge to defecate can actually worsen constipation. When you feel the need, don’t panic, but find a bathroom near you.


Now that you can separate fact from fiction, you can find the best way to work on your constipation issues. If you’ve tried some home remedies and you are still not having regular bowel movements, it’s time to see a doctor to rule out serious causes and obtain treatments as there are now prescription medications to help with constipation as well.


Written by Natan Rosenfeld

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