By Dr. Mark Boyle

Constipation can be treated at home

  • Try gentle exercise. Take a short walk each day. Gradually increase your walking time until you walk for at least 20 minutes.
  • Make sure you drink enough fluids. Most adults should try drinking between 8 and 10 glasses of water or noncaffeinated beverages daily. Avoid alcoholic beverages and caffeine, which can increase dehydration. If you have heart or kidney failure, talk to your doctor about what amount of fluid is right for you.
  • Include fruits, vegetables, and fiber in your diet each day. Have a bran muffin or bran cereal for breakfast, and try eating a piece of fruit for a mid-afternoon snack.
  • Schedule time each day for a bowel movement (after breakfast, for example). Establishing a daily routine may help. Take your time. Do not be in a hurry.
  • Support your feet with a small step stool [about six in. (15 cm)] when you sit on the toilet. This will help flex your hips and place your pelvis in a more standard “squatting” position for bowel movements.


  • If you are still constipated:
    • Add some processed or synthetic fiber-such as CitrucelMetamucil, or Perdiem-to your diet daily.
    • Try a stool softener, such as Colace, if your stools are very hard.
    • Try rectal glycerin. Follow the directions on the label. Do not use it more often than recommended on the label.
  • In difficult cases of constipation, it is better to try a saline (osmotic) laxative, such as Fleet Phospho-Soda, Milk of Magnesialactulose, or Miralax. You should not take these laxatives if you are on a sodium-restricted diet or have kidney problems or high blood pressure. Osmotic laxatives do not irritate the colonor cause dependence on laxatives like stimulant laxatives can.
  • You may occasionally need to try a stimulant laxative, such as Ex-Lax or Feen-a-Mint. Use these preparations sparingly. Overuse of stimulant laxatives decreases the tone and sensation in the large intestine, causing dependence on using laxatives. Regular use may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb vitamin D and calcium, weakening your bones. Do not use laxatives for longer than two weeks without consulting your doctor.
  • If you are still constipated, check your symptoms to determine if and when you need to see your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before using an enema. Your doctor may need to check your symptoms or suggest a different way to treat your constipation.


Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Constipation occurs or continues after one week of home treatment.
  • Rectal pain develops or increases.
  • Blood in the stool develops or increases.
  • Uncontrolled leakage of stool occurs.
  • Your symptoms become more severe or more frequent.

If you have any of these symptoms, you need to be evaluated by a doctor.