How is constipation treated?

Self-care

Most cases of mild to moderate constipation can be managed by you at home. Self-care starts by taking an inventory of what you eat and drink and then making changes.

Some recommendations to help relieve your constipation include:

  • Drink two to four extra glasses of water a day. Avoid caffeine-containing drinks and alcohol, which can cause dehydration.
  • Add fruits, vegetables whole grains and other high-fiber foods to your diet. Eat fewer high-fat foods, like meat, eggs and cheese.
  • Eat prunes and/or bran cereal.
  • Keep a food diary and single out foods that constipate you.
  • Get moving, exercise.
  • Check how you sit on the toilet. Raising your feet, leaning back or squatting may make having a bowel movement easier.
  • Add an over-the-counter supplemental fiber to your diet (like Metamucil®, Citrucel®, and Benefiber®).
  • If needed, take a very mild over-the-counter stool softener or laxative (such as docusate [Colace®] or Milk of Magnesia®). Mineral oil enemas, like Fleet®, and stimulant laxatives, like bisacodyl (Dulcolax®) or senna (Senokot®), are other options. There are many laxative choices. Ask your pharmacist or doctor for help in making a choice. Do not use laxatives for more than two weeks without calling your doctor. Overuse of laxatives can worsen your symptoms.
  • Do not read, use your phone or other devices while trying to move your bowels.

Medication/supplement review

In addition to self-care methods, your doctor will review your medications and supplements (if you take any). Some of these products can cause constipation. If they do, your doctor may change the dose, switch to another drug and/or ask that you stop taking the supplement. Never stop taking your medications or supplements before talking with your doctor first.

Prescription medications

A few prescription drugs are available to treat constipation. These include lubiprostone (Amitiza®), prucalopride (Prudac®, Motegrity®), plecanatide (Trulance®), lactulose (Cephulac®, Kristalose®) and linaclotide (Linzess®). Your doctor will pick the drug that might work best for you based on the results of your tests.

Surgery

Surgery is rarely needed to treat constipation. Your doctor may, however, recommend surgery if constipation is caused by a structural problem in the colon. Examples of these problems include a blockage in the colon (intestinal obstruction), a narrowing in a portion of the intestine (intestinal stricture), tear in the anus (anal fissure) or the collapse of part of the rectum into the vagina (rectal prolapse). Some causes of outlet dysfunction constipation may be treated with surgery. This is best discussed after testing. You may also need surgery if cancer was found in your colon, rectum or anus.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/07/2019.

References

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