Constipation is a common gastrointestinal issue, one of the most common GI complaints in the United States, for instance, leading to millions of doctors’ appointments each year and 800,000 emergency room visits. Older adults are at increased risk, perhaps due to decreased dietary fiber, fluids, and physical activity. Other than straining at hard stool and infrequent bowel movements, symptoms of constipation can include abdominal discomfort and pain, bloating, nausea, and rectal bleeding during defecation. Though it can often be benign, any sign of blood from bathrooming should always be something you get checked out by a medical professional.

A systematic review of the impact of constipation on people’s lives found that the decrease in quality of life was comparable to that experienced by persons suffering from conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic allergies, and diabetes.

If you routinely strain during bowel movements, over time, the increased pressure to push out stool can actually push part of the stomach up and out of the abdomen, which allows acid to reflux up toward the throat and cause symptoms like heartburn. This same pressure exerted on the toilet week after week can also cause other issues, including hemorrhoids and varicose veins, as well as anal fissure and other painful conditions.

The pressure from straining on the toilet may cause pockets to pop out from the wall of the colon, a condition known as diverticulosis. The increased abdominal pressure may also back up blood flow in the veins around the anus, causing hemorrhoids, and even push blood flow back into the legs, resulting in varicose veins. But, a fiber-rich diet can relieve the pressure—in both directions. Those who eat diets that revolve around whole plant foods tend to pass unforced bowel movements, which results in more than 25 times lower rates of so-called pressure diseases, such as diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and hiatal hernias.

For substantiation of any statements of fact from the peer-reviewed medical literature, please see the associated videos below.

Image Credit: Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay. This image has been modified.

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