After an episode of diarrhea, you may feel relieved that it is over, even welcoming a period of constipation and a break from constant visits to the toilet, abdominal pain, loose liquid stools and gassiness. However, constipation, which can occur immediately after diarrhea, can end up even more distressing than the initial illness.
Although many people find it odd to have constipation after diarrhea, it’s actually quite common. Constipation following diarrhea occurs for a number of reasons; to understand the cause of the condition, you need to look at the type of diarrhea you have had.
Causes of Constipation After Diarrhea
There are several different types of diarrhea: osmotic diarrhea, secretory diarrhea, inflammatory/infectious diarrhea and abnormal bowel motility. Constipation after diarrhea can happen for the following reasons:
- Over-use of anti-diarrheal medications such as loperamide.
- Dehydration following diarrhea, leading to insufficient water in the bowel.
- A disturbance in the microorganisms living in the bowel (intestinal flora).
- Poor nutrition during diarrhea, which may result in a lack of bulk within the stool.
- Serious illness and stress disrupting normal bowel habits.
- Slowness in bowel movement (hypomotility), as a reaction to previous hypermotility during the diarrhea.
- Any opioid painkillers taken to ease abdominal pain and discomfort during diarrhea can cause subsequent constipation.
- Bouts of constipation due to particular bowel conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
There are other reasons why you may develop constipation after diarrhea, so it is important to visit your doctor if your constipation persists.
Home Remedies for Constipation After Diarrhea
1. Drink Enough Fluid
The dehydration caused by diarrhea is best treated with oral rehydration solution (ORS), which contains the crucial minerals and electrolytes as well as the necessary fluids your body requires after becoming dehydrated. You need to continue taking the ORS after the diarrhea has ended and increase your water intake between ORS drinks in order to fully treat the dehydration. This will also provide bulk to your stool and help prevent you becoming constipated after diarrhea.
2. Adjust Your Eating Patterns
Doctors advise that you continue eating solid foods during the diarrheal episodes, even if you have lost some of your appetite. Try to keep to your regular eating patterns, but avoid alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods if you can. Choose bland but balanced meals. However, if you are also vomiting when you have diarrhea, you will need to avoid solid foods for a while.
3. Try Probiotics
The normal intestinal flora in your bowel consist of a mixture of different types of bacteria, which have a role in maintaining bowel health. However, diarrhea can disturb this balance by affecting the microbial population. Even after the diarrhea, it can take a while for the normal intestinal flora to be restored, and some people may suffer continuous digestive symptoms. Probiotic yoghurts, containing bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Saccharomyces boulardii can help replenish the normal bowel flora and may relieve any subsequent constipation.
4. Stop Taking Certain Medications
Anti-diarrheal drugs, such as loperamide, exert their effects through reducing bowel movement and the frequency of diarrheal episodes. However, if you continue to take these drugs when the diarrhea has ended, you may suffer constipation. Therefore, if you are using anti-diarrhea medication, take the medicine as prescribed, and know when to stop. Furthermore, any painkillers used during diarrhea may cause constipation, so try to avoid these unless you really need them. Other drugs can also lead to constipation, but you need to talk to your doctor before you stop using any medication. If you suspect that medication may be causing your constipation, speak to your doctor, too.
5. Take Exercise
Diarrhea can sap all your energy, but when you feel able to, try taking some gentle physical activity, for example going for a short walk. The movement can stimulate bowel motility and help with digestion, particularly if you walk or even stand up after meals. However, make sure that you don’t overdo it. Your body will probably be dehydrated and stressed after the diarrhea and you don’t want to put it under any further strain. Physical exercise in general helps prevent constipation; those with sedentary lifestyles are more likely to suffer from constipation.
6. Add Fiber into Your Diet
Dietary fiber is essential in maintaining a healthy bowel, preventing constipation, and forming soft, bulky stools, and you should eat as much fiber as you can. Great sources of fiber include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, zucchini, spinach, beans and whole-grain cereals. Include green leafy vegetables, and fruits such as apples, tangerines, peaches and raspberries to further increase the fiber in your diet. Try to restrict your intake of foods that don’t contain any fiber, including meat, cheese, candy and processed foods.
7. Limit Sugar Consumption
Minimize your sugar intake, as excess sugar can exacerbate constipation. Healthy individuals, without health complications such as diabetes, can eat small amounts of sugar, but sugar-filled snacks, such as pastries and ice-cream, should be kept to a minimum.
8. More Tips
Take the following steps to further reduce the risk of constipation after diarrhea:
- Don’t rush your bowel movements, let them happen naturally.
- Never ignore the urge to go to the toilet.
- If, after changing your diet and drinking plenty of fluids, you experience any sudden changes in bowel frequency or stool consistency, you need to visit your doctor to see if there is any underlying problem.