One of the things that bothers me most about endometriosis is how fundamentally unfair it is. For me, most of that comes from all the other stuff we have to deal with as side-effects. That’s why I’m writing a three part series on the really glamorous aspects of endometriosis and how to deal with them.
Many people find that their bowels go a little bit awry during their periods. That was definitely the case for me. It got far worse as my endometriosis progressed, and last year I learned first-hand that you could, in fact, have diarrhoea and constipation at the same time! You can imagine how excited I was.
Two things that most people with endometriosis will have to face at some point are the dreaded duo: constipation and trapped wind.
Constipation is where your stool basically stays in your colon too long and the colon absorbs the water in them, making them hard, dry, and really reluctant to move. Really bad constipation can develop into fecal impaction, where you basically just have a huge block of poop stuck up in there that will not move. It’s painful, can rob you of appetite and cause you to feel nausea.
Trapped wind is the same sort of thing, but with gas. It just hangs around in the digestive system giving you sharp stabbing pains and making you bloat like a little balloon. Never will a successful fart feel like such an accomplishment as when you have been suffering from trapped wind.
So, what are my masterly tips on dealing with these two unpleasant phenomena?
If you can, try and avoid getting constipated in the first place by eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables and fibres, and avoid excessive red meat (which is bad for endo anyway). Excessive dairy can also cause some binding up in there. It’s rare for a vegan to be constipated because their diets are so full of things conducive to healthy (and occasionally absurdly frequent) bowel movements, and absent most constipatory factors. It’s one of the things you hear new vegans asking about with trepidation – why am I suddenly pooping so much? Older vegans beam fondly and regale newbies with their tales of epic stools. It’s a weird club.
Supplement with probiotics and maybe even a fibre supplement like Metamucil. I hate the liquid stuff but you can get it in pill form. Stay hydrated for silky-soft stool that moves easily.
If you don’t need heavy-duty painkillers like codeine, etc, stay away from them. They all make you constipated. However, too many people can’t avoid them, in which case, just take all the precautions you can.
If it is too late and you wake up with that dull, I-haven’t-pooped-in-five-days ache (remember, normally you should go between three times a day to three times a week), there are still things you can do.
The most dramatic thing is to head straight for the laxatives, but I find that those can sometimes be a little too dramatic for me, causing lava-like explosions rather than a return to normal, healthy habits. That tends to leave my insides feeling like the loser in a prizefight. I will also try more natural remedies first for a gentler exit from the land of immobile waste. If you do go for laxatives, bear in mind there are two main types – those that loosen stool, and those that force the bowel to work harder (usually containing senna). Start with either just a loosener, or a combination. The senna alone will just be forcing your bowel to clamp harder on the unmoving lumps, and that can lead to more pain.
Prune juice, whilst not delicious, is a natural laxative that helps soften and move things along. My grandma always has prunes on her All-Bran of a morning and swears by it is as preventative for constipation. Castor oil is an even less tasty alternative – a big spoonful of that tends to get things moving again unless you are seriously impacted. Olive oil can also help soften and coat everything for easier movement. For a far tastier alternative, a dairy-free coffee can increase the urge to use the loo. I prefer just plain hot water, due to my reaction to caffeine, or peppermint tea to ease the pain in the colon. Any hot drink is absorbed faster than cool, and the fluid will help soften things.
If you are already constipated, adding more food on top of it is generally a bad idea, so I’d suggest sticking to liquids until you are having some movement. Stay fed with smoothies and soups.
Gentle exercise can help get things moving, but vigorous activity may be painful. Try some yoga and stretching, as well as a walk. Follow it up with a warm bath.
If you are desperate, though, or natural remedies aren’t working for you, or you just want quick relief, turn to the store-bought laxatives and stand by for hell to be unleashed.
Perhaps more embarrassing than constipation because it is a little less discreet (little burps from both ends are not uncommon), it as at least less serious. However, it can hurt like hell.
To avoid getting it, follow most of the same tips as for constipation, but stay away from foods that are too high in fibre. These include the usual culprits associated with gassyness – cauliflower, onions, beans and cabbage, to name a few. Carbonated drinks can also cause it, as very fatty, very sugary, or very carb-heavy foods. Being sensible about what you eat can go a long way to avoiding this discomfort. In addition, don’t eat too fast or gulp your food, as doing these things encourages you to swallow air, which then becomes trapped in the digestive system.
Unfortunately, with endo on the bowel or even just in the general vicinity, even eating sensibly is no guarantee of a gas-free life.
When you feel the tell-tale signs, here’s what to do:-
- Stretches that involve sticking your bottom up or opening the hips. Downward dog, child’s pose, or lying on your back and hugging one knee to your chest are all moves that encourage the gas out.
- Take a gentle walk. The movement helps get the gas moving too.
- Have a warm bath. As with constipation, this can soothe the discomfort and encourage movement.
- Hot drinks. Same as constipation – hot drinks are absorbed quickly. Peppermint tea is amazing because it eases the pain and helps the muscles around the colon relax a little.
- Massage your tummy. Gently push that gas through.
If you want some pain relief, I really like De-Gas. It helps break up those painful gas bubbles, letting them move through and out. Others I know swear by charcoal tablets, which bind the gas up. However, with my already delicate bowel, I find charcoal just leaves me even more uncomfortable. It’s not recommended for those with less-than-healthy bowels in any case. As far as I’m aware, pregnant people should also treat charcoal with caution as the effects on the foetus are unknown as yet.
Hopefully that gives you some tips for next time you find yourself with an uncomfortable blockage. Do you have any tips that I have missed? Do you find you suffer worse with constipation and trapped wind since your endometriosis kicked off?