man on toilet with a help sign

Q. I absolutely abhor enemas but they are about the only thing that works for my chronic constipation. I am otherwise healthy and in great shape but sometimes I can wait over two weeks to have a bowel movement.

Sometimes I get so blocked up that I throw up. The pain is unbearable and I end up curled around a hot-water bag for hours in total agony. Nothing the pharmacist has recommended does the job and my doctor does not seem very concerned.

I do not want to develop a laxative habit but I need relief. I am sick and tired of these enemas. Please help!

A. We are sad to learn that you have been suffering such discomfort for so long. There is no one treatment that works perfectly for everyone. Over the years we have heard of many solutions so you will need to be patient a bit longer until you find the ones that work best for you. Here are just a few stories that might be of interest:

“Putting applesauce, prune juice and wheat bran together seemed awfully unappetizing. I was desperate, so I tried it. Day 1 was a success, but I had no luck on day 2 and lost hope. I tried again on day 3 and got success. I thought, it looks bad, doesn’t taste the best but it helps. So I thought I’d just take it daily. After a week, it was working like clockwork. Now Power Pudding is a daily item on my menu and I’ve started to like it!”

This high-fiber mixture can be effective but it must be taken with plenty of fluid and should be used daily. It doesn’t work instantly. For more details about the formula and many other natural approaches, we are sending you our Guides to Constipation and Digestive Disorders.

“I had this problem too, and then I tried to go without any wheat for a few days. The problem went away! Now, I usually go through the day without any gluten, but now and then I go out to a restaurant and order a sandwich for a treat and the problem comes right back. This has happened so many times, and so predictably, that I am completely sure that the gluten is at the root of the problem.” –Lisa

“There is increasing buzz about wheat being intrinsically constipating, even whole wheat products. I must say that I tend to scoff at the huge number of people adopting a gluten-free diet these days. In spite of my prejudice, I am doing the same thiong because I have found that wheat is constipating for me. In my case, I would think I would not have to be nearly as scrupulous as a person with celiac disease. In any event, it might not be a bad idea to consider substituting something else for the wheat bran in the power pudding recipe.” –DW

“I find magnesium solves constipation problems. I take a liquid version, and I take it before bed as it possibly also helps with sleep. The liquid magnesium doesn’t taste good, but I drink it straight, followed by some cold pure water.” –Amy

“had a similar problem with chronic constipation and “taking” all that stuff (magnesium etc) wasn’t appealing to me. I did some research on the RDA for daily fiber intake and adjusted my diet accordingly. We supposedly need 30-35 g of fiber a day. There’s no way most of us come close to that without a huge effort. So, lots of beans, oat bran cereal, unprocessed fruits, and even Fiber One cereal (or bars).”

“Eating a super fiber rich diet “cured” my constipation, with the added benefit of keeping the weight off. However, being paranoid about pesticides in fruit, I eat as much organic fruit as I can find, and that does get expensive.” –Kathy

“As a person with MS for decades, I eat a ‘breakfast’ of one-fourth cup of ground flax seeds, 1/2 to 1 cup of Bulgarian yogurt (I like the tart taste) and a blender slushie of 2 frozen strawberries, 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries and one peeled orange. I enjoy the taste of the sweet fruit mixed with the tart yogurt; the ground flaxseed is tasteless mixed with the other two. And it does work on my sluggish ‘plumbing’.” –MTI

These are just a handful of the remedies you will find in our helpful guides. We hope that a combination of these approaches helps ease your distress. Please let us know how you make out.

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  1. Laura S

    I am a 51 year-old woman, and had been constipated my whole life, until my 40’s, when I finally listened, after hearing for the third time, to eat fruit on an empty stomach only. Now I start the day (and each meal) with melon, followed by other fruits, followed by vegetables, then protein, then carbs, if needed. Now, as long as I follow this order, I am as regular as clockwork.

  2. Denise S.

    I have the same problem. Try Sweetish Bitters, worked wonders for me.

  3. VFC

    I am an RN too & bowel function is not the same for all people. For some of us who already eat properly, increased fiber and extra water only makes things worse. Doctors often give you a memorized list of cures without realizing the misery some of us go through even when doing the right thing. Experiment with suggestions and avoid the really harsh things that are out there so as to avoid further damage. A daily slug of Miralax in my morning coffee has been my last resort okayed by my doctor. Always work with your doctor to be sure there isn’t something more serious going on.

  4. Lou

    I found out when taking antacid chewable tablets (like Tums & Rolaids) which are actually mostly calcium carbonate, that I always became constipated afterwards. Then I began to notice calcium carbonate is in some baked goods like bread. Now I always read the labels.
    It really helps for me to avoid calcium carbonate. I have to wonder how many people have severe constipation and don’t realize that calcium carbonate is causing it.

  5. Brampton SG

    I have to take some heavy pain-killers for my arthritis (as if fibromyalgia were not enough), and I can get so constipated it’s impacted. I drink fluids all day, and fibre, but the only thing that helps at all is Polyethylene Glycol. I am now trying to cut back on the pain meds until I’m ‘regular’, then using them until things get bad again. It’s really a drag.

  6. raf

    The easiest remedy for constipation is to take large amounts of vitamin C. You can take up to 10,000 mg a day. Your body will throw off any excess. I have had success with about 6,000 mg. Once the problem is taken care of, I will return to normal for awhile. If the problem recurrs, I return to the vitamin C.

  7. DS

    Too much fiber can make the problem worse for someone who is “stopped up.” It is NOT a “really easy problem to solve” for everyone. Years ago a nurse told me to “eat more vegetables.” When I told that to my family my teenage boys nearly died laughing, since they knew my love for vegetables.

  8. KAK

    I have found that jumping on a mini trampoline (aka a rebounder) for 20 minutes daily helps with regularity.

  9. LAURA W.

    Nothing fancy or complicated. I take two psyllium capsules each morning,and have been eating two cups of plain popcorn each evening for years as my snack. I also drink plenty of water and walk each day. Don’t know if this is why, but this seems to keep me regular. Haven’t needed to take a laxative in I can’t remember when.
    hope this helps somebody.

  10. Wllharrington

    I do not suffer from constipation, however, I would like to mention that apple juice has an effect. I know several grandchildren who get the ‘runs’ after drinking apple juice. I have had a similar experience after drinking apple juice or eating an apple.

  11. Florence M.

    I am 96 years old and always had somewhat of a problem with B.M.’s. I have used many different things that did not work too well. In talking to my daughter she suggested generic MiraLAX. I have had B.M’s like I have never had before. I take it every night. Just a precaution, my husband tried it and got diarrhea. Another plus, my insurance pays for it.

  12. ET

    Both parents died of intestinal cancer in 1972. I was 34. My doctor and I had been reading on the subject and he suggested that we eat too much processed food since other countries don’t have the intestinal cancer problems. He said we should eat a least 8 grams of bran at breakfast and he carries All Bran in a zip lock bag when on vacation. He is still in good health at 80+.
    While traveling, take Metamucil to replace the bran. In the early 80s, I asked a Navy Flight Surgeon, during a physical, if Metamucil would hurt you. His response was, “Hell, I hope not, I have been taking it daily for over twenty-five years.” The last time I checked on him, at almost 90, he was still in private practice working three days a week.
    Drink a couple glasses of water with the Metamucil and do not drink it at the same time you take your prescription!
    Some medications cause constipation. Check the information on the flyer. If you take one or more of them, you may also need to add three or four prunes every evening. One apple each evening also seems to help and helps prevent indigestion during the night.

  13. Penny H.

    The doctor had me start taking 250mg of magnesium in addition to prescription potassium 10meq for leg cramps. The magnesium didn’t help the leg cramps but I went from mostly constipated to daily very loose stools and diarrhea. Even after I stopped the magnesium it took me more than a month to get back to normal. My point is that magnesium or Milk of Magnesia is not for everyone.

  14. moe m.

    I am a 61 year old woman who has also struggled with constipation from the time I was a child in the 1950’s when my mother would chase me around the house to give me an enema! As a menopausal woman the situation became very intractable. I am the lady who drank the whole gallon of stuff for colonoscopy prep and nothing came out!
    I am intolerant of dried fruit and other common treatments but a nurse practitioner passed on this “cure” to me and it has worked very nicely. I take 100mg B6 with between 1 and 3 capsules of 500mg magnesium oxide. You should start with one capsule and expect results by the second day. Increase the magnesium as needed to your comfort level.

  15. KO

    I use psyllium, which can be purchased in bulk at Whole Foods or any health food store.
    I mix a tablespoon in a glass of water twice a day. I also use a stool softener 3 x’s a day.

  16. DF

    Sounds like she needs to see a different doctor. Many of the dietary suggestions could be helpful but an accurate diagnosis should be the first step she should take. If her doctor is not very concerned about such an extreme constipation problem, she should see another doc, perhaps a specialist. There are many underlying medical problems that could be contributing to her problem such as diabetes, thyroid disease or other hormonal disturbances, Parkinson’s disease, intestinal obstruction, diverticulosis, certain medications, colorectal cancer or autoimmune diseases. Any treatment should include a thorough exam to determine any potential medical condition. Two weeks without a bm is much too long!

  17. nathan

    when I sit on the toilet and cannot do it, I get up and rub my tummy vigorously and then sit again. This always works for me.

  18. C. L. Cox

    As an RN I worked with parapalegics and to teach them to induce bowel movements we taught them the following procedure: Sit upright (not bent over, since this causes a bend in the colon). Place your hands on your naked thighs with the thumbs to the inside of the thighs. Stroke your hands down the thighs from the groin to the knees. This will induce peristalsis, and induce a bowel movement. This works for me on the occasional time I have difficulty having a BM. Good luck.

  19. Judy C

    As nutritionist I can tell you that this is really an easy problem to solve: a plant based diet promotes proper digestion and elimination. Eating a diet very high in fruits, veggies, nuts/seeds and beans makes it almost impossible to be constipated, unless you are on certain medications. Some exercise, like walking, can also be beneficial.

  20. JFR

    I have found that a teaspoon of Metamucil (Orange flavor) dissolved in a cup of water, once a day, helps a lot. I have trouble with digestion, so the soluble fiber (which Metamucil is) works better for me than insoluble fiber, such as bran.
    For severe constipation, magnesium oxide definitely works for me and others I know. Capsules–from a reputable health food store or on line site–are the easiest way to take it. I once used a 400 mg capsule. Now that I am older, 200 mg. are enough. For laxative purposes, be sure it is “oxide.” You will have to learn, probably the hard way, the dose that is right for you. I think this is better than a commercial laxative or an enema. I believe research shows that most people are deficient in magnesium anyway. To learn about other types of magnesium or foods that contain it, do a “search.”
    Better than either of those, though, is cutting out most carbs: this means grain deserts, bread, cereal. And sugars just set one up for constipation.
    Merry Christmas to you too! Eating more vegetables works for most otherwise healthy people, I think. Yes. That is no fun. But neither is constipation, which gets worse as we age. Some of us are addicted to carbs and sugar, which makes it extra difficult. Constipation can be debilitating and an ill you can’t discuss at a holiday party. I wish you well.

  21. Ruth

    I gotta say, I’ve had a similar problem over the years since menopause, and I was diagnosed with IBS when I was 16. The one thing that seems to be giving me some relief now is massage. Sounds crazy, but it’s working. I massage my abdomen, above the belly button in small clockwise motions. I go from just to the left to just to the right, and do it several times a day. This is something that is finally working where many of the other suggestions given didn’t. It’s actually acupressure which has helped with migraines and asthma for me also.

  22. DS

    I read with interest about wheat being constipating. That explains a lot for me. Also, I believe that those of us with low stomach acid should be careful about eating a lot of extra fiber. I drink large amounts of water, but can still get very ‘bound up’ if I eat oat bran or other high-fiber foods.
    I think they form a sort of dry blockage with the opposite effect from what I expected. Magnesium is helpful and so is the stool I bought to prop up my feet. It’s called a “squatty potty.” Coffee with cream helps in the morning. Doctors these days just don’t seem to be interested in what really bothers their patients. They are more likely to want to treat test scores than symptoms.

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