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Relieving Chronic Constipation

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7 Ways to Relieve IBS With Constipation

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) but also experience constipation, determining the cause of the constipation is not a simple task. From infection to stress, there are a number of factors that could be contributing to your symptoms, but the causes are not fully known or understood.

In the meantime, you probably just want relief. Try these seven tips for relieving constipation, but keep in mind they may take some trial and error.

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1. De-stress 

According to Shahnaz Sultan, MD, spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association and Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota, there is a strong link between stress and IBS symptoms. Therefore it’s important to engage in activities that help relieve stress, such as:

  • regular exercise
  • yoga
  • deep breathing
  • mindfulness training
  • counseling
  • acupuncture
  • biofeedback

Research shows that therapies which can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety can also help ease IBS symptoms.

2. Don’t assume the worst (which bumps up your stress level) 

Contrary to popular belief, a colonoscopy is not necessary to diagnose IBS. Diagnosis is based on something called the Rome criteria (the kind, and duration, of symptoms). You will also be happy to know there is no evidence to support an increased risk or susceptibility to developing cancer.

3. Keep a food diary

This will help you identify which foods trigger IBS symptoms. For many people, caffeine, high-fat foods, milk products or artificial sweeteners may lead to increased abdominal discomfort. Identifying and eliminating some of these foods from your diet may be helpful.

4. Eat a well-balanced diet 

This should include fiber-rich foods, wholegrain breads, fruits, and vegetables.

5. Stick to small, frequent meals 

Large meals may cause cramping and diarrhea, or exacerbate other IBS symptoms. Eat smaller meals more frequently, or eat less at your usual three meals a day.

6. Get plenty of water and regular exercise

Fluids and exercise can help stimulate intestinal activity.

7. Take medication 

Over-the-counter fiber supplements (like Metamucil) can help control constipation. Talk to your doctor about the kind and brand that is best for you. Newer drugs have been developed that work directly on the intestines to help improve abdominal pain and control constipation; these are usually recommended for people with more severe symptoms.

When to see a doctor

If your symptoms progress, or are associated with other factors , it’s important to see your doctor to help you get to the root of the problem and develop the best treatment plan.  To determine if your symptoms are due to IBS or some other factor, consult with your doctor if:

  • you are older than 50, with constant or severe symptoms
  • the pattern of your symptoms has changed
  • your symptoms are associated with “alarm symptoms,” such as weight loss, progressive pain, or bleeding

It’s also important for your doctor to know if there is any underlying or family history of colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Feb 19
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) fact sheet. Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/irritable-bowel-syndrome.html
  2. Understanding Constipation. The American Gastroenterological Association. http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/Understanding_Constipation_Brochure_Jan_2013.pdf
  3. IBS with Constipation. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. http://aboutibs.org/ibs-with-constipation.html