Constipation in adults: Insights & tips to stimulate a bowel movement

Heather Campbell
 min read

Constipation in adults is more common than you’d think.

Constipation in adults: Insights & tips to stimulate a bowel movementEvery person has their own pattern of defecation. For example, some people go to the toilet to poop 3 times a day and others only 3 times a week. That’s all normal.

Constipation in adults happens when pooping is difficult, and a person has to poop less than 3 times a week. Stools are hard and dry and it often takes a lot of effort to get rid of the stool . Abdominal pain and a hard and swollen abdomen are also common.

Congestion occurs because poop stays in the colon too long. In the large intestine, fluid is extracted from the stool. The longer the stool sits in the colon, the harder and drier it becomes.

Continue reading for the causes, complaints, and symptoms of constipation, and when you need to see a doctor.

Constipation in adults: How do I recognize constipation?

Congestion is often caused by an unhealthy diet with too little fiber. Little exercise, excess weight, an irregular life, and psychological factors such as stress can also play a role.

Congestion in adults can also result from taking some medications. Usually, there is no physical cause for constipation.

Occasionally, constipation results from an illness, such as a slow-working thyroid gland or a bowel tumor.

Causes of blockage

The most common causes of clogging are:

Slow transit constipation (STC)

In 10-15% of people who suffer from prolonged constipation, it is due to so-called slow transit constipation. In this form of constipation, the bowel does not move enough and makes fewer contractions.

Also called a gut motility disorder, stool remains in the colon too long, causing constipation.

Treatment consists of laxatives combined with bowel irrigation or sometimes even a permanent stoma. Consult with your doctor about what is an appropriate treatment option for you.

Delaying going to the bathroom when urged to do so

By ignoring the feeling of urgency and not going to the bathroom on time, stool stays in the colon longer and then becomes hard and dry.

It then hurts to expel the stool.

Not enough exercise

Physical activity stimulates bowel movement. However, if you don’t move enough, the intestines also move less, so stools to stay in the colon longer than necessary and can cause constipation.

Improper use of the pelvic floor muscles

Congestion can come from not using the pelvic floor muscles properly.

The pelvic floor is the muscle group that allows us to hold up pee and poop and “get rid” of poop and urine. We also use the pelvic floor muscles when we push.

When people have trouble relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, constipation can well happen.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

In Irritable Bowel Syndrome, the intestinal wall is hypersensitive to stimuli, and the intestinal system responds with cramps and pain.

This abdominal pain often also comes with constipation and/or diarrhea.

Medications with a constipating effect

Some medications have constipation as a side effect, such as morphine, antidepressants, Parkinson’s medication, iron tablets, epilepsy medication, or urinary pills.

Drinking too little

It is essential to drink plenty of water for healthy bowels, and not drinking enough causes stools to become hard and dry.

Psychological factors such as stress and tension

Sometimes psychological factors affect bowel movements. Changes in familiar surroundings, such as a different toilet than used at home can be one.

As a result, the stool stays in the intestine longer, becoming hard and dry and yes, causing constipation.

Not enough fiber in the diet

Dietary fiber is essential for smooth stools and good digestion. Fiber acts like a sponge and retains moisture, which keeps the stool soft and flexible.

Fiber also stimulates bowel movement. Examples of high-fiber foods are vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.

Related post: How does the digestive system work step by step? Pathway of food explained


Some people just naturally have less active bowels.

Complaints and symptoms of constipation

Do you go to the big toilet less than 3 times a week? That’s called a blockage.

Hard, dry stools are typical of constipation. Often it takes a lot of effort to poop and is only successful by pushing hard. Abdominal pain and a hard, bloated abdomen are also common.

As a result of constipation, you may further suffer from the following:

Hemorrhoids and fissures or tears

Constipation may cause symptoms such as hemorrhoids or fissures, or tears at the anus.

Pooping then hurts, and sometimes there is some (bright red) blood loss.

You can apply a pain-killing lidocaine ointment to the anus or nitrate ointment to relax the sphincter muscle a bit.

Overflow diarrhea

Some thin stool may leak out past the hard poop if the bowel is very full.

This is also called overflow diarrhea or paradoxical diarrhea.

As a result, brown streaks stain one’s underwear, as well as foul, unpleasant odors.

When to see a doctor for constipation problems?

If the symptoms of constipation persist for more than 2 weeks, see your doctor, especially if in addition to constipation, you have blood in your stool or if you have a high fever.

Also, see your doctor if you have the following symptoms:

  • Little appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling that the bowel is not being completely emptied
  • Abdominal pain
  • A permanently altered stool pattern

Diagnosis of constipation

The diagnosis of constipation is made by your doctor based on your symptoms.

The family doctor can examine you physically. If necessary, the doctor will do an internal examination through the anus.

The doctor then feels with his finger if there is a lot of hard stool in the rectum, called a rectal touch.

If the family doctor feels it is necessary, he may refer you to a gastrointestinal liver specialist, who can rule out any other conditions through further investigation.

How to treat a blockage?

When constipated, your family doctor will give you targeted advice to modify your lifestyle and diet, maybe ingest more fiber, more water and exercise more.

Then you may be prescribed some medicine and if illness is causing constipation, it must be treated.


Bulk-forming laxative

Bulk-forming laxatives actually do the same thing as dietary fiber: they absorb moisture.

They make the poop supple, and they help with proper bowel function. It is crucial to drink extra water because these medications can backfire if they cannot absorb enough fluids.

Bulk-forming laxatives contain psyllium seed or psyllium fiber and bran. You can use these laxatives for long periods without problems because they do not stimulate the gut.

Bulk-forming laxatives can be dissolved in water, yogurt, or fruit juice.

Moisture-binding laxatives

These agents retain moisture in the intestine, making stools softer.

Contact laxatives

These agents activate bowel movements by chemically stimulating the intestinal wall.

Because of this, they have a strong laxative effect that allows you to go to the big toilet to poop smoothly.

Contact laxatives irritate your intestinal wall and are usually used only when moisture-binding laxatives do not work sufficiently.

Always consult with your doctor if you are taking temporary contact laxatives.


In exceptional cases, an enema is prescribed to resolve the blockage.

An enema involves injecting fluid through the anus into the rectum. This liquid then softens the hard stool.

Pelvic floor physiotherapy

Congestion can result from improper use of the pelvic floor muscles. Good posture on the toilet and proper use of the pelvic floor muscles can reduce and prevent constipation symptoms.

Pelvic floor physiotherapy and abdominal massage can also help with involuntary bowel movements.

Your physician may refer you to a pelvic floor physical therapist, a pelvic floor center, or a specialized department in the hospital.

What can I do about constipation?

Eating healthy food

The advice is to eat healthy foods, for which you can find healthy eating guidelines here.

Healthy food contains all the nutrients the body needs on a daily basis. Eating healthy and varied foods every day is the key to a healthy and smooth bowel movement.

Eating various foods ensures that your body gets enough fiber, which is very important for a healthy stomach (in order to avoid gastroparesis) and intestinal system.

You also get enough minerals, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats this way.

Eating enough fiber

When constipated, it is crucial to eat enough fiber. Dietary fiber is essential for good stools and healthy digestion. Fiber acts like a sponge and retains moisture, keeping stools soft.

Fiber also stimulates bowel movement. Examples of high-fiber foods are vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.

Are you not eating enough fiber? Then try to eat more fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole-grain products.

Using extra fiber may cause you to experience bloating and flatulence at first. These symptoms will diminish and subside as your gut gets used to the change.

Tip: Flatulence or farting is a normal occurrence; however, if you’re farting excessively, you may want to see a doctor about your flatulence. More info in our other post How to relieve flatulence? Tips & remedies to get rid of gas naturally

Drinking sufficient water

You must drink enough water to prevent constipation, at least 0.5 liquid gallons per day.

If you are constipated or consuming extra fiber, it is wise to drink some more.

If you don’t drink enough, the fibers can’t do their job properly and can actually cause even more constipation.

Make sure you get enough exercise

Regular exercise stimulates bowel movement and can help you avoid constipation.

Movement keeps the bowels going.

Healthy toilet behavior

Go to the toilet immediately when you need to. Holding up stools further thickens them, which can cause constipation.

Take your time when you go to the bathroom and check it out because the color of your stool says a lot about your health.

Don’t skip your breakfast

Breakfast is very important. A high-fiber breakfast gets the gut working and keeps the intestines moving which helps to prevent constipation.

No smoking

Smoking harms the gastrointestinal tract, so it’s another reason to give up smoking, besides being damaging to your health and lungs.

Respect healthy sitting posture

Proper sitting position on the toilet is essential for good bowel movements and helps prevent constipation in adults.

With the help of a footstool, you can easily create a good sitting position.

As you raise the knees and sit slightly forward, you effectively sit in a crouched position, causing the sphincter muscle to relax completely.

This will make pooping easier (By the way, you should also mentally accept that pooping is something natural and is nothing you should be ashamed of. Being afraid to defecate is absolutely unnecessary).

Be careful with strategies to promote your bowel movements

There are many so-called “natural” products available to improve bowel movements and relieve constipation fast in adults.

Often these contain natural remedies and herbs that stimulate the gut such as senna pods. Other examples include laxative tea and certain types of breakfast tea.

For questions about laxatives, it is best to consult your (family) physician or pharmacist.

Constipation in adults: Conclusion

Constipation in adults, while uncomfortable, isn’t usually anything to worry about.

However, if too severe, see a doctor. Usually, a few dietary changes will be enough to sort it out, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

About Heather Campbell

As a nutritionist, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More