Normal stool consistency is firm but soft. The moisture content in stool has to be sufficient to ensure that the stool remains soft but not watery and unable to retain its form. However, as the water content in stool decreases, it becomes dry and hard. As a a result passing stool can be difficult and even painful. It may lead to conditions like hemorrhoids.
After food is digested and nutrients absorbed, intestinal chyme from the small intestine passes into the large intestine. It is this watery chyme that will be solidified to form stool. The large intestine absorbs water from the chyme as it moves through. The chyme is transformed from a watery consistency to mush and then solid stool as we know it. However, if there are problems in the large intestine where water is absorbed excessively then the stool may become dry and hard. This can also happen if stool stays in the colon of the large intestine for too long.
Therefore people who are constipated are more likely to experience dry and hard stool. Apart from the difficulty in defecating, as well as discomfort or pain, the dry and hard stool can become impacted. Here it forms into a very hard mass that obstructs the colon or rectum. Softer stool cannot pass through (obstipation) and it can lead to stretching of the large intestine (megacolon). Some serious complications of obstipation is damage to the nerves in the colon wall and even rupturing of the colon.
Most people who are suffering with dry stool may not give it much thought unless it poses a problem. However, attending to it early can mean avoiding serious complications. Here are some of the ways to remedy dry and hard stool.
Drink More Water
A person who is dehydrated is more likely to suffer with dry stool as the body makes every effort to conserve water. However, drinking insufficient water even if you are not dehydrated can be a problem. The rule is that adults should be drinking 8 glasses (8oz per glass) of water daily. This is around 64oz of water a day or about 2 liters. Increasing your water intake should be the first step you take to remedy dry and hard stool. It should be a daily undertaking and diuretics like alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas or other beverages should be avoided.
- Drink at least 2 glasses of water with every meal.
- Keep a water bottle and commit to filling it a certain number of times in the day.
- Choose water over sodas or alcohol when you are eating a meal.
Eat High Fiber Foods
Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet. Although the human body does not absorb fiber, it plays several important roles in the digestive tract. Fiber is able to absorb water, bulk up stool and keep it soft. Next to drinking water, it is the second most important remedy for alleviating dry and hard stool. It is important that adequate fiber intake is maintained on a daily basis. Fresh fruit and vegetables are some of the best options but if necessary you should use a fiber supplement. As a general rule, refined food has less fiber than foods in its raw and natural form.
- Start your meal with a bowl of salad.
- Pack one or two fruits with your lunch.
- Switch to whole grain breads and cereals.
Pass Stool More Often
The longer your stool stays in the gut, the more water the colon will absorb. It is therefore important to pass stool regularly. Although individual bowel habit varies, normal patterns means have a bowel movement anywhere between 3 times daily to 3 times a week. If you pass stool less than 3 times a week then you are constipated. You should try to pass stool at least daily if you are suffering with dry and hard stool. Eating high fiber foods, drinking sufficient water and exercising are three natural ways to keep your bowel patterns very regular.
- Train your bowels to pass stool every morning and evening.
- Light exercise especially after meals can help stimulate the bowels.
- Some people find that ab crunches help to stimulate a movement.
Use Stool Softeners
When other measures fail, you may have to consider stool softeners. It assists by increasing the amount of water that is absorbed by the stool. Nevertheless you should still follow other dietary and lifestyle measures even if you are using softeners. It is essential to use stool softeners exactly as prescribed. Although minor, the side effects of stool softeners like cramping and throat irritation can be a problem for some people. If stool softeners are not yielding the desired results, then you should speak to your doctor as the problem could be more serious than you think.
- Speak to your pharmacist about the directions of use for stool softeners.
- Do not try to increase the dosage if your stool consistency is not improving.
- Herbal remedies can be helpful but always speak to your doctor first.
Avoid Problem Foods
Some foods may be more likely to cause dry and hard stool. These problem foods can vary from one person to another. Some of the common foods that cause constipation include:
- Dry and very salty foods
- Low fiber foods
- Red Meat
These are just some of the potential trigger foods and not all people suffering with constipation may find it to be a problem. Beverages containing caffeine, alcohol and other substances that promote water loss through urine.
- Keep a food diary to identify problem foods.
- Many foods eaten in excess can alter bowel habit. Eat in moderation.
Do Not Hold Back Stool
There are various reasons for constipation but the exact cause can not always be identified. Sometimes the cause is intentional like when a person purposely holds back from having a bowel movement even when there is urging to defecate. It is always advisable that you establish a regular bowel habit, preferably at a time when it is convenient to use a toilet that you are comfortable with. Restraining yourself when you get the urge to defecate forces the stool to remain longer in your colon, dry up and become hard.