Find out the causes and symptoms of constipation and how to relieve discomfort while at work.
Constipation is a common issue that almost everyone experiences at some point in their life. It can be uncomfortable and distracting, especially during a workday when you’re trying to stay focused and productive. In this article, we’re sharing important information about constipation and how to relieve or prevent this condition.
What is constipation?
Constipation is defined as having fewer than 3 bowel movements in one week and is one of the most common gastrointestinal issues people have. It can involve straining to go, hard stools or feeling like you have not fully emptied your bowel. While more than 2.5 million Americans visit their doctor for constipation each year, most people do not seek further medical help.
Constipation happens when the colon absorbs too much water from the stool, which dries it out and makes it harder. It’s important to remember that everyone is different. The amount of time between bowel movements can vary from person to person. While one person may have bowel movements three times a day, someone else may have one a few times a week. Knowing your bathroom routine is important to understanding if you are constipated.
Acute constipation is short-term and only lasts for a few days. It might be brought on by a change in lifestyle or diet and is relieved fairly quickly with fiber-rich foods, extra water, and movement. On the other hand, chronic constipation is a long-term condition that lasts for more than three months—sometimes lasting for years. It can affect a person’s quality of life and isn’t relieved by changes in diet, hydration, or exercise.
Causes and Symptoms of Constipation
The common symptoms of constipation include: irregular bowel movements, difficulty or straining to go, hard or small stools, feeling like you’re unable to fully empty your bowels, and abdominal pain or bloating.
There can be many causes of constipation. Some common causes of persistent constipation include:
- A lack of fiber
- Not enough water or liquids
- A lack of exercise or physical activity
- Diet changes
- Eating too many dairy products
- Certain medications (such as antidepressants and opioid pain relievers)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Changes in lifestyle
Sometimes, constipation is a symptom of a larger health issue. Eating disorders, pelvic floor dysfunction, digestive problems, bowel diseases, or colon cancer can cause constipation. Even conditions that don’t seem directly connected to the digestive system—such as neurological problems, mental health disorders, an underactive thyroid, or excess calcium in the blood—can contribute to constipation.
Constipation is more common for women, nonwhite populations, and elderly people living in nursing homes. Changes in hormones, especially during pregnancy and after childbirth, make women more prone to constipation. Older adults who are not as active, have slower metabolisms, and weakened digestive muscle contractions are also more susceptible to constipation.
Constipation While at Work
Constipation can cause a lot of issues at work as it can be distracting and uncomfortable. As such, it is important for employers to be understanding and supportive of their employees who suffer from constipation. You can offer flexible work hours and easy access to bathrooms to help employees manage their symptoms. You can also communicate with employees about work events. When scheduling meetings, inform employees how long they will be and if they will be in-person or virtual.
Regular movement can also help with constipation, such as walks or short workouts. Employers can create a culture that allows employees time to exercise or go on walks. There is also technology available that can help employees with their constipation. GIThrive has features that allow individuals 24/7 help to manage and record their symptoms, such as courses to take action steps for improvement, education to learn more about constipation, how to relieve constipation, and support from an assigned health coach and dietitian. Providing employees with resources to help with constipation can be empowering and reassuring to employees about taking control of their symptoms.
How To Relieve and Prevent Constipation
Constipation happens but GIThrive has helpful tools to build healthy habits. These five steps go a long way in keeping your digestive system running smoothly:
- Exercise: Moving your body helps move your intestines.
- Fiber: Eat fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole-grain bread, prunes, and bran cereal.
- Water: Drink plenty of water. If you’re constipated, increase your intake and try drinking warm liquids in the morning.
- Dairy: For some people, dairy products can contribute to constipation. Reducing your dairy intake can help control constipation.
- Bathroom Usage: Going to the bathroom when you have the urge is important in reducing constipation. Don’t ignore it when you have to go, even if you’re at work.
Be sure to seek medical attention if you experience sudden constipation, intense abdominal pain or cramping, are unable to pass gas or stools at all, have blood in the stool, or experience unintentional weight loss.
Talk to your doctor if constipation is a new problem and you haven’t made any lifestyle changes or if it lasts for more than two weeks. Frequent constipation might be a sign of a larger problem and should not be ignored.
About Vivante Health
Vivante Health is an innovative digital healthcare company reinventing the way chronic conditions are managed, gut first. Our all-in-one gut health program, GIThrive, empowers people—through brilliant technology, advanced science, and on-demand human support—to improve digestive health, while lowering their cost of care. Click here to learn how employers and health plans are saving money with GIThrive or email [email protected].