9 Ways To Loosen a Bowel Blockage at Home

9 Ways To Loosen a Bowel Blockage at Home

Bowel blockages (also known as bowel or intestinal obstructions) occur when food cannot pass through your large or small intestines. This can cause constipation (difficulty pooping), nausea, bloating, and other symptoms. Complete bowel blockages are serious and require emergency medical treatment from a gastroenterologist (a doctor specializing in the digestive system).

Home remedies such as drinking more water, adjusting your diet, and exercising more can promote healthy bowel movements and alleviate discomfort. Over-the-counter (OTC) remedies can also help remedy mild bowel blockages.

Bowel blockages vary in severity depending on what’s causing your symptoms. They can start as partial bowel blockages before escalating to complete blockages if left untreated. The severity of your symptoms can help you decide whether or not to seek emergency attention.

  • Constipation: Having three or fewer bowel movements a week, difficulty passing gas, and experiencing minor pain when passing small, hard, or dry stools
  • Abdominal pain: Severe cramping and discomfort in your stomach
  • Nausea: Excess waste in the stomach may cause an upset stomach and vomiting
  • Bloating: A feeling of discomfort and swelling in the abdomen

Feeling constipated from time to time is normal. However, if you cannot have a bowel movement at all, see a healthcare provider as soon as possible. Complications of a total bowel blockage can be fatal if not treated right away.

Here are the complications you may experience if you have a total bowel blockage:

  • Strangulation: Part of your intestines is cut off from your blood supply and your bowel starts to die
  • Intrabdominal abscess: Infected, fluid-filled sacs cause inflammation and kill surrounding tissue in the abdomen
  • Sepsis: A severe immune system response that can become fatal
  • Wound dehiscence: Your wounds or surgical incisions (where the skin is cut open during surgery) are unable to heal
  • Aspiration: Food or liquid enters your lungs
  • Short bowel syndrome: Your body doesn’t absorb enough energy from food because your small intestine is damaged
  • Pneumonia: Total bowel blockages can affect your lungs and cause a severe bacterial infection
  • Bowel perforation: A hole develops in your intestine or colon
  • Kidney failure: Your kidneys stop functioning
  • Respiratory failure: Your lungs cannot get enough oxygen into your bloodstream

Though some cases of bowel blockage can only be treated medically, you can try changing your diet, exercising more, or taking OTC medications at home to loosen a bowel blockage and ease symptoms. Everything from dietary and lifestyle changes to consuming natural laxatives can help to loosen a bowel blockage.

Consuming More Dietary Fiber

A healthcare provider may suggest increasing your dietary fiber intake to help ease blockages and improve digestion. While specific recommendations of how much fiber to consume vary based on age and sex, adults generally need between 22-34 grams(g) of fiber daily.

Sources of fiber you can add to your diet include:

  • Whole grains (multigrain bread, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal)
  • Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, black beans)
  • Fresh fruit (berries, oranges, guavas, pears, raspberries)
  • Vegetables (broccoli, carrots, leafy greens)
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts)

Staying Hydrated

Drinking a lot of water while boosting your fiber intake is important to ensure your body processes the fiber you consume. Staying hydrated makes it easier to have smoother bowel movements. You can also drink more natural fruit juices and clear soups to help with hydration. Your recommended daily water intake will vary depending on your health status. Speak with your healthcare provider about how much water you should drink to meet your health needs.

Cutting Out Dairy

Some people have a hard time breaking down lactose, a sugar found naturally in milk and dairy. If you find that you’re experiencing diarrhea and/or nausea after eating a lot of milk, cheese, ice cream, or other dairy-based foods, you may have lactose intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Reducing how much dairy you consume can help to loosen a stool blockage, especially if you have a sensitivity to lactose.

Exercising More

Though more research is needed, studies have found a link between exercise and easier bowel movements and improvement with other digestive complications. Strenuous or high-energy activities like running may increase discomfort if you are already experiencing chronic constipation. More moderate exercises like walking, swimming, or cycling can help get the digestive system working.

Aim to engage in 75-150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical exercise a week. Studies also recommend strength training once a week. When beginning a new exercise routine, start small and scale up gradually to more intense movements to protect your body and avoid injury.

Taking Over-the-Counter Laxatives

Another approach that may help is using an OTC laxative to soften your stool and ease constipation.

Types of OTC laxatives you can consider include:

  • Fiber supplements, such as Metamucil (psyllium) or Citrucel (methylcellulose)
  • Miralax (polyethylene glycol), milk of magnesia, magnesium citrate, or other osmotic agents, which increase the fluid content of stools
  • Stool softeners, such as Docusate (colace)
  • Mineral oil used as a lubricant, such as Fleet
  • Stimulants, which spur intestinal activity, such as Dulcolax (bisacodyl) and Correctol (bisacodyl), for more severe cases
  • Herbal laxatives like Senna

Consult your healthcare provider if you find yourself having to use laxatives often to have a bowel movement, especially if you are not able to have a bowel movement without them.

Adding Prebiotics to Your Diet

Generally, prebiotic foods are easier for you to digest. Prebiotics are high in oligosaccharides (carbohydrate chains that stimulate the bacteria in your gut) to help digestion. Different types of prebiotics work by softening stools and improving regularity. Prebiotic foods include chickpeas (or garbanzo) beans, bananas, and leeks. However, certain prebiotics like garlic and onions may worsen digestive disorders like IBS.

Eating Probiotics

Probiotics are foods or supplements with live microorganisms that promote healthy digestion and intestinal function. They contain bacteria naturally made in your intestines, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Dietary sources of probiotics include cultured and fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi, or sauerkraut. You can also find it as a supplement.

Drinking Coffee

Researchers have found caffeine promotes digestion and bowel function in your gut. The caffeine in drinks like coffee stimulates gastric acid (the digestive acid in your stomach) and motor activity in the colon. You can consume caffeine in coffee, tea, or energy drinks. Research suggests consuming no more than 400 mg of caffeine a day. 

Taking a Glucomannan Supplement

Some researchers have found glucomannan—a type of fiber found in the roots of the konjac plant from southwest China—effective in relieving constipation, However, more studies are needed to determine whether or not glucomannan stimulates digestion. This type of fiber is commonly found in shirataki or konjac noodles or as a supplement.

You can also do a lot to prevent bowel blockage from happening. Preventative lifestyle changes you can make include:

  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals
  • Chewing food thoroughly
  • Staying active
  • Consuming more soft foods
  • Trying a liquid diet
  • Opting for a moderate amount of fiber in your diet
  • Choosing to eat less dairy

If possible, try not to wait long before seeing a healthcare provider if you suspect you are experiencing a total blockage. Total bowel blockages can lead to serious complications like severe abdominal pain, nausea, and an inability to pass stool.

With a total bowel blockage, your primary provider or a gastroenterologist may suggest a colonoscopy (a tube passing through the intestines) or emergency surgery. Colonoscopy prep can be challenging, but the procedure itself doesn’t typically involve any pain. If your provider suggests surgery, a surgeon will remove sections of your intestine and reshape them to unclog the blockage. For less severe, partial bowel blockages, your healthcare provider may advise you to go on a liquid diet or prescribe medication.

Bowel blockages can be uncomfortable and painful in some cases. Fortunately, there are options for relieving symptoms. A range of dietary and lifestyle changes like eating more fiber, staying hydrated, and exercising more may help. If you have severe symptoms, taking laxatives or other OTC medications can help activate your digestive system. Be sure to reach out to a healthcare provider if you often have difficult bowel movements.

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