If you’ve ever been backed up, you know that even mild irregularity can be a pain in the you-know-what—literally.
But severe constipation is no joke. If natural remedies, like adding fiber to your diet, aren’t doing the trick, it’s time to move on to the big guns.
Laxatives are a quick way to relieve the problem and come in a variety of forms (liquids, tablets, capsules, suppositories and more). We’ve broken down the options:
- Bulk laxatives (fiber supplements) help move food from the stomach through the intestines to get the process going. Popular brands include Metamucil, Benefiber, Citrucel and FiberCon.
- Hydrating laxatives (osmotics) pull water from surrounding tissue into the colon, which softens the stool and increases bowel movement. Brands to know? MiraLAX, Cephulac (caution: this gets things going quickly for many people), and Milk of Magnesia. Some doctors suggest starting out with just a daily magnesium supplement.
- Stool softeners draw water and fats into the stool, which allows it to move through the body more easily (look for Colace and Surfak brands).
- Stimulants trigger the intestinal muscles to contract, which makes you go to the bathroom. Look for brands such as Dulcolax, Correctol, Ex-Lax and Senokot.
- Lubricants, like mineral oil and liquid paraffin, help stool move more easily through the intestine.
Not quite ready to take a walk through the laxatives aisle? Not to worry. There are several relatively simple things you can do to prevent and treat constipation.
- If you know certain foods make you constipated, try to avoid them. Common problem foods include cheese, milk, meat, eggs and bananas.
- Eat more high-fiber foods, such as lentils, wheat bran or quinoa.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day and avoid getting dehydrated. This is especially important if you’re eating more high-fiber foods, because fiber absorbs a lot of water in the bowels (which makes stools softer and easier to pass).
- Boost your diet with foods considered probiotics, like yogurt. Probiotics contain organisms such as bacteria and yeast that help digestion.
- Have a cup of coffee! It acts like a mild laxative, though other warm beverages may help stimulate bowel movements, too. Try a cup of herbal tea, or even some hot water with a squeeze of lemon.
When in doubt, consider Grandma’s constipation remedy—prunes. Research has shown that they really do work. In one study, participants who ate about seven prunes twice a day had less constipation than those who took regular doses of a bulk laxative.