08/22/2011 07:51 am ET Updated Oct 22, 2011

10 Tips For Combating Irregularity

If you've ever consulted a gastroenterologist, chances are it might have been because you weren't "regular." Constipation, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, means having fewer than three bowel movements per week. A panel of international experts cites difficulty during defecation (straining during more than 25 percent of bowel movements or having the sensation of hard stools), and the sensation of incomplete bowel evacuation as other symptoms of the problem.

If you've struggled with constipation, you're not alone: Studies estimate that constipation affects between 12 and 19 percent of Americans and 63 million people in North America. There are many reasons for developing constipation; however, in most cases there's no single, identifiable cause. As a specialist, I try to first look for "medical" causes for constipation, such as hormone imbalances (hypothyroidism), medications (diuretics, beta-blockers, antidepressants, etc.), concurrent medical illnesses (diabetes), poor bowel habits (erratic timing), structural (colorectal cancer) or functional (pelvic floor dysfunction) issues and habitual use of certain laxatives (senna). However, in my practice, diet (low fiber) and lifestyle issues (lack of exercise, stress) are the most common reasons for constipation. I find that the vast majority of patients that I see in consultation improve when they make a few lifestyle modifications.

If you have trouble with constipation, be sure to ask your physician for a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer by the age of 50. In addition, try these tips: