Quiz: What Do You Know About Constipation?

Americans spend more than $700 million on laxatives each year -- seemingly enough to keep the whole animal kingdom regular. But despite all of those powders and tablets and tonics, constipation is as common as ever. In fact, more than 4 million Americans say it's a frequent or constant problem. If you're frustrated by constipation, this might be the time to try a different approach. To help you get started, take this short quiz to find out how much you know.

1. If you don't have a bowel movement every day, you're probably constipated. True or false?

True

False

2. Which of these is NOT a major cause of constipation?

a. Lack of exercise

b. Lack of fiber

c. Lack of fluids

d. Citrus fruits

3. If you're feeling constipated, the first thing you should do is try an over-the-counter laxative. True or false?

True

False

4. Overuse of laxatives can actually cause constipation. True or false?

True

False

5. Frequent enemas are a good way to stay regular, cleanse your bowel, and improve your overall health. True or false?

True

False

6. Chronic constipation may be unpleasant, but there's usually no reason to see a doctor. True or false?

True

False

Your Results

1. If you don't have a bowel movement every day, you're probably constipated. True or False?

The correct answer is: False.

Many people think the day isn't complete until they have a bowel movement. This can lead to a lot of needless worrying about constipation. Some perfectly healthy people have bowel movements three times a week, while others may go three times a day. If you're truly constipated, your stool will be hard and dry, you may have trouble completely emptying your bowels, and it may be difficult or painful to defecate. Most constipated people have fewer than three bowel movements each week.

2. Which of these is NOT a major cause of constipation?

The correct answer is: d. Citrus fruits.

A low-fiber diet, inadequate fluids, and inactivity are three of the most common causes of constipation. Other causes include medications (such as narcotic pain relievers, antacids, antihistamines, antidepressants, and iron supplements), pregnancy, irritable bowel syndrome, and ignoring the urge to go to the bathroom.

3. If you're feeling constipated, the first thing you should do is try an over-the-counter laxative. True or false?

The correct answer is: False.

Lifestyle changes should be your first defense against constipation. Try drinking more liquids, eating more fruits and grains and other high-fiber foods, and getting more exercise. If your constipation persists, ask your doctor if a laxative is right for you.

4. Overuse of laxatives can actually cause constipation. True or false?

The correct answer is: True.

There's good reason to be wary of laxatives, especially stimulant drugs such as Correctol or Senokot. If you take laxatives too often for too long, your colon can forget how to work on its own. Fortunately, your colon function will probably return to normal if you slowly cut back on laxatives. Bulk-forming fiber supplements such as Metamucil and Citrucel (which are not laxatives) are relatively safe, but it's best not to take any supplement regularly without talking to your doctor. You can mix the supplement in fruit juice to make it more palatable. Follow the directions on the package and always drink one and preferably two 8-ounce glasses of liquid with the supplement, because otherwise it can actually cause constipation!

5. Frequent enemas are a good way to stay regular, cleanse your bowel, and improve your overall health. True or false?

The correct answer is: False.

Some people believe frequent enemas -- consisting of water or other liquids -- help cleanse the system and restore energy. However, there's no evidence that frequent enemas do anything to improve your health. In fact, just like laxatives, enemas can impair your normal bowel function if used too often.

6. Chronic constipation may be unpleasant, but there's usually no reason to see a doctor. True or false?

The correct answer is: False.

Most people can manage constipation on their own with a few simple lifestyle changes. But if your constipation won't go away, you should definitely see a doctor. In addition to helping you find relief, your doctor can check for an underlying cause. If you're over 50, your doctor may want to conduct various tests to rule out colon cancer or other conditions.

References

AGA Technical Review on Constipation. American Gastroenterological Association. December 20, 2000.

Digestive Health Resource Center. American Gastroenterological Association.

Freedom from Digestive Distress: Medicine-Free Relief From Heartburn, Gas, Bloating, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gary Gitnick, MD. Three Rivers Press, New York, 2000.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Constipation.

National Institute on Aging. Age page: Constipation.

The University of Chicago. Diseases we treat. Constipation.

American Family Physician. Treatment of Constipation in Older Adults. Volume 72. Number 11. December 1, 2005.

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