Stool should be a soft but firm semi-solid consistency. It should be passed out with ease when a person has the urge to defecate. However, this ideal situation is rare for people who are suffering with constipation. Not only can defecation be difficult but the hard stool can hurt the rectum an anus as it is evacuated during a bowel movement.
It is important to understand how stool hardens in the bowel in order to prevent it from occurring. This can be managed with simple lifestyle and dietary changes although at times it may be necessary to use medication like stool softeners to assist accordingly. However, hard stool is an ongoing problem for most people even it is eases for short periods.
Causes of Stool Consistency
The formation of stool begins when the fluid mixture of water, digested food, undigested material and wastes collectively known as intestinal chyme enters the large intestine. It is converted to a soft solid as it moves through the large intestine where water is reabsorbed. This fluid passes up the ascending colon, across the transverse colon and by the time it reaches the descending colon it is largely a soft solid.
The stool in the colon collects until it is eventually passed out into the rectum when it is time to defecated. The anal sphincters relax and the soft solid stool is pushed out through the anus into the environment. However, there are several reasons why this does not occur in constipation and hard stool eventually develops. The factors that contribute to hard stool also contributes to constipation. Therefore hard stools are a common feature in constipation.
Read more on irregular bowel movements.
Why does stool become hard?
Firstly, if the stool moves too slowly through the colon or stays in the colon for too long as is the case with constipation then too much water is absorbed from the stool. It then hardens within the colon and can be difficult to evacuate.
Secondly insufficient water intake will also result in hard stool as the absorption within the colon leaves little remaining water for stool to retain a soft consistency. Low water intake also contributes to constipation which further causes hard stool.
Lastly, fiber plays a major role in keeping stool soft. This indigestible material absorbs water and bulks up the stool. It ensures that stool can retain some of its water intake even when water is being reabsorbed in the colon.
Remedies To Soften Stool
There are a number of dietary and lifestyle remedies that can soften stool and prevent hardening of future stools. However, these remedies need to be part of daily life and continued even when stools are soft. It is not as effective if instituted only occasionally.
Always consult with a medical doctor as there is a risk of fecal impaction with constipation and hard stools. This complication can be severe and even lead to life threatening complications in some instances.
Drink More Water
This may seem like an obvious remedy but many people do not consume sufficient water. Other drinks like coffee and sodas are not suitable. Water needs to be drank in sufficient amounts and this is approximately 68 ounces (2 liters) a day for adults.
If necessary water intake can be increased to 100 ounces (3 liters) daily. It is important to ensure that sufficient water is consumed with meals, especially with high fiber meals. Water consumption must be spaced out throughout the day.
Increase Fiber Intake
Fiber should be part of the daily diet through whole grains, fruits and vegetables. It is important to eat sufficient fiber at every meal rather than opting for fiber supplements. By making high fiber food part of the daily diet, it can be continued on an ongoing basis.
It is important that higher fiber intake is done alongside increased water consumption. The benefits of fiber largely depends on the availability of water in the gut. Moderate the use of fiber if digestive symptoms like abdominal cramps and excessive flatulence occurs with high fiber intake.
Be More Active
Physical activity plays a role in the movement of food and stool through the gastrointestinal tract. This will expedite bowel movements and keep a person more regular. It also means that stool will not remain in the bowels for too long.
Since water reabsorption in the bowels dries out stool, by reducing its stay in the bowels the stool will not harden. Exercise is ideal but even walking around and doing household chores will provide sufficient movement for bowel regularity.
Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine
Alcohol, caffeine and soft drinks are popular beverages but should not be counted towards the total water intake for the day. In fact alcohol and caffeine can worsen the situation because of its diuretic effect, meaning that it causes the body to lose water.
This water loss is through the kidneys in the form of urine. Therefore more water is drawn out of the bowels which increases the likelihood of stool becoming harder. When alcohol and caffeine are consumed, the water intake should be increased to compensate.
Use Stool Softeners
Stool softeners are very effective although it is not always necessary. Dietary and lifestyle changes should be the first course of action. However, stool softeners can be helpful when these changes fail to yield results.
There are different types of stool softeners. Some are high in fiber, others prevent water reabsorption to some degree while certain stool softeners draw out fluid from the body and into the bowels. Always speak to a doctor about the more suitable stool softener.
Try A Squatting Platform
Studies have shown that the sitting position is not the best orientation for passing stool. Squatting makes it easier to defecate but this is not always practical with the modern seat toilets. Now squatting platforms are available to assist accordingly.
The sitting position kinks the rectum and anal canal thereby making passing stool difficult. Some stool may be retained. This means that stool remains in the bowels for longer and more water is reabsorbed. Ultimately this leads to hardening of the stool.