Tackling Constipation-the Bane of the Elderly


woman with abdominal discomfort
                                                        Photo by Sora Shimazaki from pexels

Constipation is the bane of the elderly. My grandfather, father, and mother struggled with constipation in their later years. 

As a last resort, they had to take medications including laxatives.

Early onset- I struggled with it since childhood. '

As a young woman attending college, it would spoil my day.

Abdominal discomfort, bloating, and inability to eat food.             

Negligence worsens things - Yet, I did not build a morning routine until my teenage years. Even then I wouldn't bother much if the daily dump did not take place thinking 'If not today, it will happen tomorrow.' This went on till my adult years.

Once I started working I found stress was an extra ingredient in enhancing constipation. I had work to do, a home to be taken care of, aged parents, and a young son. Icing on the top was a demanding petty boss

I did try to eat fruits usually a banana and bread or bread with honey to get things moving. But again I was negligent and didn't bother much about the irregularity

I would have to pay for this lack of discipline. Once I retired I settled into a relaxed life with no schedule for eating, sleeping, and dumping. Within a year of retiring, I was having frequent stomach and lower abdominal discomfort.

Why you should not let it develop into a chronic condition -One fine day when COVID was waning, I found that I was bleeding despite having stopped menstruating many years ago. I was also having severe abdominal pain.

Scared out of my wits I rushed to the gynaecologist fearing the worst.

A series of tests with no negative result set my mind at rest as nothing adverse was revealed

My brother who is a Radiation Oncologist suggested I get a PET Scan done. There was a history of cancer in the family with my dear mother succumbing to colon cancer.

I am still not sure if it was the diagnosis or the ensuing tests, which was worse.

I had to get a CT scan of the whole abdomen. This involved remaining without food or drink for 12 hours.

The most difficult rule was to not have coffee or tea with milk in the morning, which I have been having since my childhood. Dairy products were not to be taken at least 12 hours before the scan.

The scan was scheduled at 11 am on a Saturday but was done only at 1 pm.

The result of the scan was that there were many small "diverticula" in the abdomen. The diagnosis was "diverticulitis" as per scan results.

I was blank as to what these terms meant or implied

Post all tests what was the gynaecologist’s verdict?

"There is nothing wrong from the gynaecological perspective, I advise you to consult a gastroenterologist."

A colonoscopy was additionally advised and confirmed the culprit. Chronic constipation and straining had brought things to a crisis. The bursting of haemorrhoids had caused the bleeding

From Chronic Constipation to Diverticulitis:

Chronic constipation over the years led me to develop diverticulitis. This was the first time in my over 60 years that I heard about the existence of such a medical condition.

Well it's never too late to learn, isn't it?

Diverticulitis was the cause of my frequent stomach pain and nauseous feeling.

According to the Mayo Clinic, "Diverticula are small, bulging pouches that can form in the lining of your digestive system. They are found most often in the lower part of the large intestine (colon). Diverticula are common, especially after age 40, and seldom cause problems.

The presence of diverticula is known as diverticulosis. When one or more of the pouches become inflamed, and in some cases infected, that condition is known as diverticulitis. Diverticulitis can cause severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and a marked change in your bowel habits."

Remedies -

My doctor advised that the causes of diverticulitis triggered by chronic constipation were:

-A Low fibre diet,

-Less exercise and

-Lack of enough fluids in the diet. 

He took my detailed medical history. He learned that I take Ibuprofen (pain medication) more often than I ought to. He advised that this medication could also enhance the problem. I had to reduce my intake of Ibuprofen

The Battle begins…Overcoming Constipation

I realized I had to change my diet and include more fibre in it.

High Fibre Breakfast: Out went bread…which is high in calories and carbohydrates and low in fibre. But, now we have more fibre-rich options like Wheat Bread and multi-grain bread. In came oats a whole-grain, high-fibre option. Just what the good doctor had ordered

More Fibre later in the day too: Mid-morning I would have a large bowl of vegetable salad, a mix of carrots,, cucumber, radish, and tomatoes

Lunch would be white rice and lentils which provided the carbs and protein. Additionally, there would be at least one cooked vegetable, often two

Dinner became the game-changer with lots of vegetables & fruits:

I reduced Indian bread (Roti) from my usual intake of 2 pieces to 1. I added a heap of cooked vegetables…usually high-fibre ones like beans, ladies finger, cauliflower, ridge gourd, or a mix of them.

Post this fibre-rich dinner, my day's intake concluded with at least 3 varieties of fruit. A  Banana, an Orange along with an Apple or kiwi.

What else did I do?

-Tried to walk at a brisk pace as many steps as I could. Aimed to walk at least 7500 steps daily.

-Drank a lot of water throughout the day

-Tried to go when the urge came without undue delay

Yoga Technique for beating constipation -There is a yogic technique of getting your bowels to move in the morning. My yoga teacher recommends drinking 2 cups of hot water while sitting on your haunches in the morning. Do try it. But, for seniors sitting on their haunches is no easy task.

My gastroenterologist also prescribed a stool softener. For, chronic constipation is to be avoided at all costs. With the development of diverticulitis and haemorrhoids, I learned the hard way that I should not ignore constipation. Rather it should be tackled head-on


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