Digestive health


Learn more about what causes constipation problems and how to solve them.

Relieving Constipation

Constipation is a very common digestive complaint. Whether it’s related to transit (when stools stay in the colon for too long or move too slowly through the large intestine) or evacuating stool from the rectum, constipation can be occasional or chronic.  

  • Occasional constipation is brought on by a lifestyle change (pregnancy, travel, change in diet, etc.). Usually, it’s quickly and easily resolved once you return to your regular routine.
  • Chronic constipation is characterized by symptoms that last for at least six months. Up to 1 in 5 North Americans have experienced an episode of chronic constipation.


Constipation is caused by certain lifestyle habits, conditions or illnesses. Symptoms generally include: 

  • Fewer bowel movements (the frequency of bowel movements varies widely from person to person, from three times a day to three times a week);
  • Straining during bowel movements;  
  • A feeling of incomplete evacuation or blockage;  
  • Gas or bloating
  • Small, hard and dry stools;  
  • Abdominal pain or cramps.  

Common causes

During digestion, the body absorbs nutrients and water from food before it becomes waste (stool). Waste passes through the digestive tract by a process called peristalsis, which is a series of contractions. When this process slows down, waste moves more slowly towards the colon. Meanwhile, the body keeps absorbing fluid, so stools dry up and make evacuation painful. 

A slow digestive system may be related to: 

  • Inadequate hydration;
  • A low-fibre diet;  
  • Insufficient physical activity;  
  • Imbalanced intestinal flora;
  • Changes in diet (e.g. a trip) or an excess of foods that cause constipation;
  • Stress;
  • Certain medications or supplements (calcium or iron supplements, morphine, codeine, some antidepressants, antacids, etc.);
  • Long-term laxative use;
  • Age: Constipation is more prevalent among people aged 65 and older because peristalsis naturally slows down with age. Moreover, seniors go through many lifestyle changes: they are getting less exercise, taking more medication and changing their diet;
  • Pregnancy: Some pregnant women experience constipation, especially during their third trimester due to the pressure of the uterus on the colon and taking certain vitamin and supplements that contain calcium and iron;
  • Hormonal changes (menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, etc.);
  • Ignoring the urge to defecate;  
  • Hemorrhoids or anal fissures;
  • Some illnesses (irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, some cancers, etc.).   


Usually, adopting healthy habits quickly relieves constipation. However, if it persists, some simple, temporary fixes can help to restore intestinal health: 

Eat more fibre

The recommended daily intake of fibre is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Choose foods that are naturally rich in fibre, such as: 

  • Unpeeled fruits and vegetables, if possible;
  • Whole grains, including wheat and oat bran;  
  • Legumes;
  • Nuts and seeds.

There are some foods that can help boost your diet during a bout of constipation, such as prunes, apples and pears. These foods are high in sorbitol, a type of sugar that naturally works as a laxative. Ground flax seeds can also be very effective. 

Also, try to avoid the following foods when you are irregular, because they can cause constipation: 

  • Too much white bread;
  • Cooked carrots;
  • Bananas;
  • Rice;
  • Cheese. 

Exercise regularly

A simple, 30-minute walk a day can make a world of difference, because being active stimulates your body and digestive system. Moreover, core-strengthening exercises can make it easier to pass stools.  

Stay hydrated

It is recommended to drink between 1.5 and 2 litres of water a day, or eight 250 ml glasses.  

Move your bowels when you feel the urge

The most natural time to empty your bowels is when you wake up, because digestive muscles need to be relaxed to do their work properly. Make sure you have enough time to go to the bathroom during your morning routine. Plus, your body will become more regular if you do it at the same time every day. No matter what works for you, it’s important to listen to your body and go to the bathroom when you have the urge to, or else evacuation will be harder and more painful. 

Use a mild laxative

If constipation persists and other solutions have not been effective, a laxative can help. However, use laxatives sparingly. Taking a laxative for more than 7 days can make constipation worse. Choosing the right laxative depends on your age, symptoms, health, medical history, etc. So, it’s important to consult your Accès pharma affiliated pharmacist before taking a laxative or any other product to relieve constipation, because they will have the expertise to give you advice based on your situation. 

Medical emergencies and chronic illnesses

Constipation is a symptom, not an illness. Although it is most commonly caused by a change in lifestyle, it can also be a sign of an illness or condition that affects the digestive system: 

  • Irritable bowel syndrome;
  • Colorectal or intestinal cancer;
  • Endocrine disorder (e.g. hypothyroidism);
  • Depression;
  • Multiple sclerosis;
  • Eating disorder;
  • Bowel obstruction.

If you have sudden constipation accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms, consult a physician immediately:

  • Onset of fever;
  • Bloody or black stools;  
  • Severe bloating and abdominal pain;
  • Alternating constipation and diarrhea;
  • Weight loss;
  • Nausea and/or vomiting;  
  • 7 days without a bowel movement;
  • Laxative provides no relief.

In any case, don’t ignore constipation if you experience it every day over a long period of time. Your Accès pharma affiliated pharmacist has the expertise to answer all of your questions. 

This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice and Accès pharma affiliated pharmacist-owners cannot be held responsible for this information. The information was true and accurate at the time of publication, but it is subject to change.

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