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Let’s Talk about it: Travel and Constipation

travel and constipation
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There are times when a little constipation is not a bad thing. You know, when you’re on a 36 hour bus trip, for example. For the most part, however, constipation is an unwanted malady, and one that can actually be quite uncomfortable and even painful. In this post, we will talk about why travelers are more prone to constipation than others, how to avoid constipation and how to deal with it if you are unlucky and find yourself stopped up on the road.

Constipation basics

Most people know of constipation as the inability to poop. But what exactly is going on?

If you watch the video above – and yes, I did search youtube for videos of constipation – you will have a good idea of how your gut works AND how constipation is caused. It could be the most enlightening 58 seconds of your day so I suggest you watch it.

In short, constipation is caused by a lack of water and/or fiber in the stool or a breakdown of the intestinal process that moves the stool along. In some cases, a serious medical condition may be the cause of constipation, but this is rare and for our purposes, not what we will be talking about today.

Constipation leads to infrequent and possibly painful bowel movements, abdominal cramps, bloating, and in more severe cases, vomiting. If you are having fewer than 3 bowel movements a week or if you are straining to poop on a regular basis, it’s highly likely that you are constipated.

Why are you more prone to constipation when you travel?

There are several reasons travelers end up with constipation:

Time changeJet lag can throw off your eating, bathing and yes, crapping routines. You may find that you get backed up because everything is simply out of whack.

New environment – The climate, the food, the drinks. All of these things will have an impact on your system. If you are traveling somewhere tropical, you may get dehydrated more easily and as we saw in the video above, dehydration is one of the easiest ways to develop constipation.

New bathrooms – Some travelers are wary of unfamiliar bathrooms. Some travelers may have no problem with unfamiliar bathrooms, but they do have a problem with squat toilets or pit toilets or toilets that are nothing more than a plot of wild jungle bush. Holding it in may make it more difficult to come out later.

What can you do to prevent constipation?

1. Drink plenty of fluids – It’s important to stay hydrated for a number of reasons (hell, we wrote a whole article about it here) and avoiding constipation is one of them. You can see that same article for tips on how to stay hydrated while traveling.

2. Eat plenty of fiber – Seeing as fiber and water are the primary ingredients for healthy and swift stool passage, it makes sense for this to be the second tip on the list. Fiber can be found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. You are less likely to find Fiber in that cheeseburger you are eating. In fact, let’s just go out and say it, a cheeseburger is not good for the prevention or treatment of constipation.

3. Get in some exercise – Regular exercise can help keep things, well, regular. And it doesn’t have to be intense p90x style workouts, either. Even a long walk will help you in this regard.

4. Go when you need to go – Ok, it won’t kill you to hold it if you’re in a pinch, but if you find yourself doing it several times, you’re asking for trouble. If you’re worried about having to poop while in transit, try to schedule your travel times around this as much as possible. And if the bathroom is gross, just close your eyes and imagine how much better you’ll feel afterwards. And, you know, make sure to wash your hands.

What do you do if you’re already constipated?

Ok, so you missed out on the whole prevention thing and now you’re constipated. Unfortunately, there’s not much more that you can do other than stick with the 4 points above. If you weren’t doing them before, try them now. Feel free to add a lit bit of extra water and hydration to the mix. If things don’t improve you can purchase an over the counter laxative. Just remember that a laxative should not be used persistently for more than 2 weeks. And if you find yourself constipated for more than two weeks despite your best efforts to eat fiber, stay hydrated, exercise and go when you need to, you need to see a doctor.

Alright, folks. Constipation. There you have it.

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{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Katrina April 26, 2013, 5:24 pm

    Thank you for that. Confirmed my usual plan of drinking lots of water when traveling. I don’t always succeed in this plan, but I do try!

    • phil April 29, 2013, 5:45 pm

      It’s a good plan, Katrina!

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