ROCHESTER, Minn. — The array of drug store products to address constipation can be daunting. The September issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter sorts out the choices and offers advice on when to see a physician.
Constipation is common among older adults. Signs and symptoms include straining, passing lumpy or hard stools, a sensation of incomplete evacuation or sensation of blockage. Frequency of bowel movements isn't a reliable indicator of constipation. Healthy adults can have anywhere from three bowel movements a week to three a day.
In most cases, constipation symptoms can be reduced by gradually increasing fiber in the diet, drinking plenty of non-caffeinated fluids and taking 1 to 2 tablespoons of fiber supplement containing psyllium (Metamucil, others) or methylcellulose (Citrucel).
Short-term, occasional use of osmotic laxatives may help things get moving. This category includes:
Another option is stool softeners (emollients) such as docusate calcium (Surfak) and docusate sodium (Colace). They add lubrication to the stool but don't cause a bowel movement.
If symptoms don't improve after three weeks of home care, seeing a physician is recommended. A doctor will evaluate and address any underlying conditions that may be contributing to chronic constipation. The care provider may recommend a stimulant laxative. They are available in pill form or as suppositories. They are effective but should be used under a physician's supervision.
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