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Quick and Dirty Bowel Tips

Find out what causes constipation and diarrhea and how to get rid of both.

By
Rob Lamberts, MD,
Episode #042
Talking to doctor

How to Get Rid of Constipation 

Of the two problems, the less serious is constipation (which can make you miserable, but doesn’t kill you). To treat constipation you should do the following:

Increase your fluid intake: Since sugars tend to loosen the bowels, drinking juices may work better, although you have to watch your calories when you do this.

Increase your regular intake of fiber: You can do this best by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables (Nutrition Diva can help you here).

Try medication: These should be only used when dietary changes don’t work, and come in three classes:

  • Stool softeners: These are safe to use regularly and should not cause diarrhea

  • Laxatives: These medications can loosen the stool, but mainly serve to make the colon expel its contents. The best laxative, in my opinion, is the one that goes by the brand name Miralax. That is a gentle laxative that works by increasing the water in the stool, and so can be used on a daily basis if needed. The other laxatives shouldn’t be used for long periods, and should be used only after consulting your doctor.

  • Enemas: An enema a solution that is put into the colon through its exit hole. It is not comfortable, but people who feel bad enough from constipation will do anything to get going again. Enemas can offer immediate relief. If you need an enema more than once, you should probably call your doctor. You also have my deepest sympathy.

How to Get Rid of Diarrhea

Most diarrhea will go away on its own without treatment. The main task for the person with diarrhea is to avoid dehydration. Here are some things you can do for diarrhea:

  1. Avoid sugary or fatty foods: An unhappy intestine won’t digest these as well, resulting in worsening and prolonged diarrhea.

  2. Increase your fiber intake: That may seem counter-intuitive, but fiber absorbs water, and so will firm up watery stool.

  3. Use medication: Medication can be helpful to lessen symptoms, but though it is generally safe to use medication in cases of viral infections, it can cause problems in cases of bacterial infection or with some other forms of diarrhea.

When Should You Go to the Doctor About Constipation?

So when is it appropriate to be evaluated? For constipation, a visit to the doctor is appropriate in the following situations:

  • New onset constipation lasting over two weeks; this could be caused by medication, disease, or possibly serious conditions.

  • Significant abdominal pain associated with the constipation. 

  • Sudden onset of constipation, which could represent a serious problem. 

When Should You Go to the Doctor About Diarrhea?

For diarrhea, the conditions meriting a doctor’s visit include:

  • Any sign or worry of dehydration

  • Bloody diarrhea

  • Diarrhea along with fever or significant abdominal pain

  • Diarrhea lasting more than a week--which could either be a malabsorption or a medical problem

  • Diarrhea immediately following use of antibiotics

The bottom line: Take care of your bowels, and they may take care of you. Abuse your bowels, and woe to you and those around you.

Next week, embarrassing issues month continues with urinary incontinence.

If you have topics, embarrassing or not, that you want me to cover, send them to housecalldoctor@quickanddirtytips.com, or you can submit them to me on twitter (@housecalldoc) or my Facebook page.

Let me once again remind you that this podcast is for informational purposes only. My goal is to add to your medical knowledge and translate some of the weird medical stuff you hear, so when you do go to your doctor, your visits will be more fruitful. I don’t intend to replace your doctor; he or she is the one you should always consult about your own medical condition.

Catch you next time! Stay Healthy!

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About the Author

Rob Lamberts, MD
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