2016-06-16 17:13:11 UTC

Constipation 105: Treatment

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Treatment of Constipation


Every day you should:


  • Eat a well-balanced diet with whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (especially water).
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Set aside time after breakfast or dinner to go to the bathroom.
  • Go to the bathroom when you feel like you have to. Don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.

The first step in treating constipation is to know that normal bowel function varies widely, from three bowel movements a day to three a week. Each person must figure out what is normal for him or herself to notice a change in their normal bowel habits. Above all, know that feeling better takes time and effort. 

Daily Habits

A diet with fresh fruits, veggies and a lot of water, along with regular exercise, is a good start for most people with constipation or irregular bowel habits.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Options

There are a number of options to help treat constipation — in addition to the daily habits above — that can be found over the counter, without a prescription. These options come in many forms, such as pills, powders (to mix with liquid), enemas or suppositories. Talk with a health-care professional about your options.

  • Bulking Agents (Fiber)
    • Bulking agents, or bulk-forming agents, pull fluid into your intestines, which makes stool bigger or bulkier
    • The bigger stool causes the colon to contract and push it out.
    • You must take bulking agents with lots of water, or else they may back up and block your bowel.
    • Bulking agents can cause bloating (swelling) and belly pain.
    • Examples include:
      • Psyllium.
      • Methylcellulose.
      • Polycarbophil.
  • Osmotic Agents
    • Osmotic agents help stool to keep fluid within it. The more fluid in your stool, the softer it will be, and the more bowel movements you will have.
    • Osmotic agents can cause dehydration (fluid loss) or mineral imbalance, so older adults and people with heart or kidney failure need to be careful with these medications. Talk to a doctor first.
    • Examples include:
      • Miralax®.
      • Milk of Magnesia.
      • Saline laxative (magnesium citrate).
  • Lubricants
    • Instead of keeping fluid in the stool, lubricants coat the outside of stool, which helps it pass more easily.
    • Examples include:
      • Fleet® mineral oil enemas.
  • Stool Softeners
    • Stool softeners do not necessarily give you the urge to go, but they help bring fluids into stool, which softens them.
    • Stool softeners are often recommended to help people not strain while having a bowel movement (such as after a surgery or after childbirth).
    • Examples include:
      • Colace®.
      • Surfak®.
  • Stimulant Laxatives
    • Stimulant laxatives make the intestines contract and move stool along.
    • Examples include:
      • Dulcolax™.
      • Senokot™.

Prescription Medications

If none of the over-the-counter (OTC) options help, you and your doctor may talk about trying a prescription medicine next. 

  • Chloride Channel Activator (Lubiprostone)
    • Used for people with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) or in people with no known cause of constipation.
    • This medicine helps to put more fluid in your GI tract, which can:
      • Help with belly pain.
      • Soften stool.
      • Make it so there is less of a need to strain to pass stool.
      • Make it so you have bowel movements more often.
  • Guanylate Cyclase-C Agonist (Linaclotide, Plecanitide)
    • Used for people who have no known cause of constipation or who have constipation that doesn’t go away for a long time.
    • This medicine can:
      • Help make it so you have bowel movements more often and regularly.
      • Help with belly pain.
      • Soften stool.
      • Make it so there is less of a need to strain to pass stool.

There are specific prescription drugs that treat opioid-induced constipation (OIC), such as naloxegol, naldemedine or methylnaltrexone. Your doctor can tell if these are right for you.


Constipation – What to Know:
  • Constipation can often be managed through changes in diet, drinking more fluids and exercise.
  • Know what is normal for you. A bowel movement is not needed every day.
  • Tell your doctor if your constipation does not go away or keeps coming back.
  • If your doctor finds an issue with your pelvic floor muscles, he or she may prescribe biofeedback treatment of the pelvic floor muscles
  • Pelvic floor physical therapy, which can teach you exercises to retrain your body, may also be recommended.


  • If you are a candidate for surgery, your doctor will tell you about the benefits and risks.


© AGA, September 2017

©AGA, July 2016

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