Constipation is failure to excrete the residue from food after forty-eight hours. Failure to have one bowel movement a day is not necessarily constipation. Normal babies have three or four actions of the bowels in twenty-four hours. Most modern physicians treat constipation by diets including stewed fruits, the taking of plenty of water, and other control of food. Constipation may result simply from bad habits of attention to this necessary function of elimination. Older people may develop constipation through gradual breakdown of the tissues involved in moving the bowels. For people who have not become too severely addicted to bad habits, a good mixed diet with proper proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and fats, as well as vitamins and enough indigestible residues, will provide regular action of the bowel.
Among the drugs most commonly used to stir action are saline and vegetable cathartics, organic and mineral preparations, mechanically-acting substances, and water. Strong salts cause a pulling of fluid into the bowel and may produce inflammation. The vegetable cathartics like cascara, senna, rhubarb and jalap act by irritating the lining of the bowel, which makes it empty itself. The mechanically-acting substances include mineral oil or liquid petrolatum, agar, psyllium seeds, flax seeds, bran and cellulose. Other substances frequently used are based on phenolphthalein, which is known to be an inert chemical substance with a specific action in causing motion of the bowel.
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