This is not the 'sexiest' of all topics; however, I have personally experienced that constipation can adversely impact your quality of life. So what can cause constipation and why do I think it impacts a large portion of heart failure patients?
Medication and supplement side effects
Many heart failure patients are on a diuretic, and dehydration can make constipation worse. Heart failure can also cause fatigue and shortness of breath, so many of us are not as physically active as we once were.
Also, many of us are restricted in the stimulants we can drink like coffee, which is a way to alleviate constipation that we no longer can partake in. Lastly, many of the medications like beta blockers slow EVERYTHING down.
The Cleveland Clinic list of factors that increase your risk of constipation include:1
- Being an older adult
- Being a woman
- Being dehydrated
- Eating a diet that's low in fiber
- Getting little or no physical activity
- Taking certain medications, including sedatives, opioid pain medications, some antidepressants or medications to lower blood pressure
- Having a mental health condition such as depression or an eating disorder
The common symptoms of constipation are:2
- The inability to have a bowel movement for several days or passing hard, dry stools
- Abdominal bloating, cramps or pain
- Decreased appetite
As mentioned, constipation can have a profound impact on the quality of life. In my opinion, this is something that heart failure patients should be serious about treating. Also, in my experience, a few things can help.
Certain foods can help constipation. Prune juice comes to mind. High fiber foods like oats and whole-grain cereal and bread can help; however, watch out for the sodium.
There are also products like MiraLAX that you can mix with a liquid and can help. It does not help right away, so in my experience, it's better to try and make sure you do not get to the point of acute constipation. MiraLax works by holding water in the stool so it softens it and increases the number of bowel movements. Personally, given that I have fluid restrictions, I do not like the taste or texture and I'd rather not consistently use a portion of my (limited) fluid allowance on this.
Laxative stimulants can force a bowel movement by squeezing the intestines. I personally find that these can cause cramping, so I use this as a last resort. However, this is better than the ER (trust me - been there done that).
Light exercise and eating
Light exercise in combination with eating works sometimes. When my energy level allows it, a light walk before breakfast combined with a decent-sized breakfast can do the trick.
Colonic massage has also been a helpful tool in my toolbox! There is a great deal of information online about it, but it's a way to stimulate your colon. You can do it yourself.
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