The twenty-third capacity that I introduce in my eBook is that you must [be able to] alleviate constipation. In it I state that:
You must “alleviate constipation (especially in children). Constipation could prove to be another huge problem post-disaster given the expected consumption of foods you’re not accustomed to eating, among other reasons. Know how to alleviate such conditions before they become real problems.”
In last week’s 99 capacities series, we talked about dealing with diarrhea. The other major problem with respect to proper digestive tract functioning is constipation. Although usually less of a serious medical concern than diarrhea, constipation is still nothing to ignore. Many Americans have both acute and chronic constipation issues when times are normal, food is plentiful, and assorted medications are on-hand.
Now think about how much of a problem something like constipation can be when everything is not normal? People will be much more stressed out, which isn’t good for proper bowel functions. Water may be scarce too; understand that adequate intake of water is vital to proper bowel movement, so a disaster is definitely not the time to be rationing your water for a number of reasons, including constipation.
Probably the most likely reason why constipation will become a huge issue in any extended emergency is a significant change in one’s diet. Once all of the typical foods we eat have been consumed–which are often refrigerated–we’ll need to switch over to a diet largely consisting of bulk foods that we may not be very accustomed to eating. The thing is that even a small change in diet can have drastic impact on bowel functioning. Now throw in a HUGE change in diet and I can only imagine how much trouble that would cause!
This is the biggest reason why people tell you to “store what you eat, eat what you store.” To be honest, we’re not very good about it ourselves, but we do try to occasionally throw in some of our food stores, including the wheat, beans, and oats. Granted, we do still eat quite a bit of fresh foods (fruits and veggies) as well as plenty of packaged and canned foods also. If you’re in a similar situation, besides actually incorporating bulk foods into your diet regularly, I would suggest that at the first sign of any long term emergency you begin to immediately incorporate bulk foods into your diets while you still have foods that your family is accustomed to eating. Although you’ll probably still have some serious constipation issues to deal with, this strategy may give you the best “fighting” chance to allow your bodies to adjust to a drastically new diet.
This is not only true for adults but especially with children. For some reason their bodies tend to react to changes in diet more harshly. Of course, they’re also more likely to work through it faster than adults. Just pay close attention to them if you make such a drastic shift.
The symptoms of constipation
You should also understand what it means to be constipated in case you’re one of the lucky ones never to have experienced it. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Not having a bowel movement every day doesn’t necessarily mean you’re constipated. You likely have constipation, however, if you’ve had at least two of the following signs and symptoms for at least three of the past six months:
- Pass fewer than three stools a week
- Experience hard stools
- Strain excessively during bowel movements
- Experience a sense of rectal blockage
- Have a feeling of incomplete evacuation after having a bowel movement
- Need to use manual maneuvers to have a bowel movement, such as finger evacuation or manipulation of your lower abdomen”
You might need to see a doctor if:
…”you experience an unexplained onset of constipation or change in bowel habits, or if symptoms are severe and last longer than three weeks. Also seek medical care if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, which might indicate a more serious health problem:
- Bowel movements occurring more than three days apart, despite corrective changes in diet or exercise
- Intense abdominal pain
- Blood in your stool
- Constipation that alternates with diarrhea
- Thin, pencil-like stools
- Unexplained weight loss”
What else to consider?
Besides the usual recommendations of eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water, getting enough fiber, more exercise, and avoiding stress, you probably should store some laxatives just in case. Very young children should use a suppository instead. Sometimes raising your knees to your chest while you’re on the toilet helps align everything to allow for easier passage. It helps to not drink alcohol when constipated. Note that some medications can cause constipation too, so you should know if any medications your family takes may cause it. It may be necessary to manually remove impacted stool, which may be done with a gloved finger. Last, here are a few additional laxative recommendations from the Mayo Clinic:
- Fiber supplements, or bulk laxatives, are generally considered the safest of laxatives. Examples include FiberCon, Metamucil, Konsyl, Serutan and Citrucel. These agents must be taken with plenty of water.
- Stimulants cause rhythmic contractions in the intestines. Examples include Correctol, Dulcolax and Senokot.
- Lubricants enable stool to move through your colon more easily. Examples include mineral oil and Fleet.
- Stool softeners moisten the stool and help prevent dehydration. Examples include Colace and Surfak.
- Osmotics help fluids to move through the colon. Examples include Cephulac, Sorbitol and Miralax.
- Saline laxatives act like a sponge to draw water into the colon for easier passage of stool. Examples include milk of magnesia and Haley’s M-O.
Remember, constipation is nothing to ignore. It WILL be a problem for many people in any extended emergency situation for a variety of reasons. Work to incorporate the foods you intend to rely upon in your diet little by little and, at the very least, have the laxatives and other supplements on-hand to help alleviate it when necessary.