Constipation is a common digestive problem that can affect people of all ages. It is defined by having fewer than three bowel movements per week or bowel movements that are dry, hard, small, or difficult to pass.
Although some people may think that having a bowel movement every day is necessary, the American Gastroenterological Association say this isn’t always the case. Some people may have bowel movements every day and still have constipation if stools are dry and hard.
Others may only have bowel movements three times a week but have regular and soft stools. The hardness and consistency of stool may be a better signal of constipation than the frequency of bowel movements.
Many people will experience constipation at some point. Traveling, changes in routine, or certain foods may cause harder bowel movements in the short term.
Although constipation isn’t usually serious, it is often uncomfortable. It can cause stomach pain, bloating, and nausea. Short-term constipation typically goes away on its own after the person returns to normal routines and eating habits.
In some cases, constipation can last for weeks or longer. This can lead to long-term health problems, including:
1. Hemorrhoids: enlarged veins in the anus that can cause pain, irritation, bleeding, and itching
2. Small tears in the anus that can cause pain or itching
3. A large mass of stool becoming stuck in the rectum
4. Rectal prolapse, where the rectum slips out of its normal position
Treating constipation with olive oil
Olive oil may be a safe and healthy way to get stools moving again. The fats in olive oil can help make the insides of the bowel smoother, making stools easier to pass. It can also help the stool hold in more water, keeping it softer.
Olive oil makes stools softer and the insides of the bowel smoother.
One tablespoon of olive oil, taken on an empty stomach in the morning, may relieve constipation for many healthy adults. Taking more than this amount can lead to diarrhea and cramps and is not recommended.
Olive oil is not recommended for babies and children with constipation. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend a small amount of apple or pear juice, Karo syrup, or pureed prunes for infants. Toddlers and older children may get relief with high-fiber foods such as prunes, apricots, and whole grain cereals.
If dietary changes don’t help, children should see a doctor for additional treatment.