person who is constipated is unable to or finds it difficult to
defecate, finds the process painful, or can only partially empty his
or her bowels. Constipation is a common problem among older
are several possible contributing factors, such as the use of
certain medications (some blood pressure drugs, antacids or
sedatives, for example), lack of exercise, inadequate intake of
water and fiber or other dietary changes.
In addition, some diseases
that are more common in the elderly, such as neurologic disorders
(Parkinson’s disease, stroke), diabetes, hypothyroidism and other
metabolic disorders, can predispose a person to constipation.
person is not necessarily constipated if he or she does not have a
bowel movement every day. More important is whether the person’s
bowel habits have changed from what is normal for them, and/or the
degree of discomfort they may be feeling.
person who visits a physician because of constipation may be advised
to try some of the simple preventive or treatment remedies mentioned
below. Or, if after performing an examination the doctor believes
there may be a more serious problem involved, he or she may send the
person for blood tests or scans before deciding on an appropriate
course of action.
many people, constipation is easily prevented with a healthy diet
that includes plenty of natural fiber (fruits, vegetables and whole
grains) and water. Extra fiber can be provided with bran, psyllium
or other bulking agents. Be cautious, though. Use small amounts at
first so that your digestive system can become accustomed to the
If you are thinking of trying psyllium, you
should speak with your physician first because this agent can affect
the absorption of iron, vitamin B-12, and various prescription
medications including coumadin, digoxin, carbamazepine, and lithium.
another hint. Having a warm drink or meal upon getting up in the
morning can be all it takes to promote the urge to “go” (in
medical parlance, this is “the gastrocolonic response”.)
are many laxative agents available on the shelves of any pharmacy.
Some soften the stool, usually by increasing its water content. Some
directly stimulate contraction of the intestine to promote a bowel
While most of these stool softeners or laxatives are safe
if used occasionally, it is important not to overuse them. Some
contain large amounts of salt or other substances that can be
dangerous for people with kidney disease or heart failure. Overuse of stimulant laxatives can cause the bowel to become
“lazy”, compounding the constipation. Mineral oil is not usually
recommended because it can cause lung problems if regurgitated.
these remedies for constipation are not effective, or if the
constipation is caused by a specific problem in the digestive system
or another disease, more complex treatments may be needed. In such
cases, your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist for further