How to cope with travel constipation

Whether you’re headed across time zones or just downstate, your normal response to move your bowels can get suppressed when you’re traveling.

“It’s the whole psychological thing of how regular are you and are you in a frame of mind to have that regular bowel movement,” said Dr. Michael Ruchim, associate chief medical officer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. It’s something that’s talked about but “not well-described in literature with science behind it.”

Traveling can also disrupt sleep patterns, fluid intake and the amount of food you eat. Add in the availability of public bathrooms and the reluctance some feel about using them, and this can lead to “stool retention and more difficult evacuation,” said Dr. Darren Brennen, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at Northwestern Medicine.

Long stretches of sitting can also contribute to the problem.

“Inactivity causes the whole digestive system to slow down,” said Bobby Edwards, creator of the Squatty Potty, a stool that promotes a different pooping posture. “Get some movement, and stay active. Use the hotel gym when you can. Those types of things really help.”

Luckily, most people don’t need to do much to remedy the issue. If you don’t have a history of constipation, the body should reset in a day or so, Ruchim said. Even skipping a few days is no cause for alarm.

But if you know missing your morning movement will result in symptoms like bloating or nausea, Ruchim suggested some additional ways to prep:

— Plane travel can lead to dehydration, so drink more water and less alcohol.

— Make sure you get enough fiber the first day, either by eating fruits and vegetables or by taking a fiber supplement, such as Metamucil or Benefiber.

— Pack stool softeners.

Make sure to heed your body’s call to action. The longer your stool sits in your colon, the more water is extracted and the harder it gets, Brennen said.

“One of my solutions is go when you need to go,” said Edwards, “even if you don’t like the toilet situation.”

If you end up holding it for an extra day or so, it’s not the end of the world. A little water might get reabsorbed, but not enough to “change a soft banana into hard marbles,” Ruchim said.

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