Although treatment depends on the cause, severity, and duration of constipation, in most cases dietary and lifestyle changes will help relieve symptoms and help prevent them from recurring. Use of laxatives or enemas can be recommended once the diet and lifestyle measures fail.
A diet with enough fibre (20 to 35 grams each day) helps the body form soft, bulky stool. A doctor or dietician can help plan an appropriate diet. High fibre foods include beans, whole grains and bran cereals, fresh fruits, and vegetables such as asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and carrots. For people prone to constipation, limiting foods that have little or no fibre, such as ice cream, cheese, meat, and processed foods, is also important.
Changes that may help treat and prevent constipation include drinking enough water and other liquids, such as food and vegetable juices clear soups, so as not to become dehydrated, engaging in daily exercise, and reserving enough time to have a bowel movement. Also, the urge to have a bowel a movement should not be ignored.
Most people who are mildly constipated do not need laxatives. However, for those who have made diet and lifestyle changes and are still constipated, doctors may recommend laxatives for a limited time. These treatments can help to retrain a chronically sluggish bowel. For children, short-term treatment with laxatives, along with retraining to establish regular bowel habits, also helps to prevent constipation.
A doctor should determine when a patient needs a laxative and which form is best. Laxatives taken by mouth are available in liquid, tablet, gum, powder, and granule form.
Treatment may be directed at a specific cause. For example, the doctor may recommend discontinuing medication or performing surgery to correct an anorectal problem such as rectal prolapse.
People with chronic constipation caused by anorectal dysfunction can use biofeedback to retrain the muscles that control the release of bowel movements. Biofeedback involves using a sensor to monitor muscle activity that at the same time can be displayed on a computer screen, allowing for an accurate assessment of body functions. A Healthcare professional uses this information to help the patient learn how to use these muscles.
Surgical removal of the colon may be an option for people with severe symptoms caused by colonic inertia. However, the benefits of the surgery must be weighed against possible complications, which include abdominal pain and diarrhoea.