Likely causes: Inadequate fluids or exercise, stress, medications for depression and high blood pressure — or just being female. “A woman’s wider and flatter pelvic muscles weaken with age, causing the sigmoid colon to drop, which makes the large intestines work harder to move things through,” says gastroenterologist David T. Rubin, M.D., of the University of Chicago Medicine.
DIY treatments: Milk of magnesia or “gentle” laxatives such as MiraLAX or GlycoLax as needed (but avoid “stimulant” laxatives). Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Coffee can also help.
What a doctor may do: If the problem is ongoing with little improvement, test for low thyroid, colon cancer, diverticulosis or other GI problems; review current medications that may cause problems — or prescribe one to relieve them.
Noteworthy: A high-fiber diet has long been recommended to help prevent constipation, “but recent studies indicate fiber doesn’t treat constipation,” says Rubin — and some research even finds that unknown-caused constipation may improve by reducing dietary fiber intake.
Likely causes: Swallowing air when you smoke, eat or talk; snoring and sleep disorders; eating dairy, legumes — such as lentils and beans — or foods and drinks high in sugar and soy; use of antibiotics and other medications.
DIY treatments: Eat more slowly. Take activated charcoal or other over-the-counter products containing simethicone; Beano, an over-the-counter product containing enzymes; or lactase supplements before a meal. Avoid excessive consumption of problem foods and sugary products.
What a doctor may do: Test for lactose intolerance, bacterial overgrowth or irritable bowel syndrome.
4. Rectal Itch
Likely causes: Poor wiping, which can occur with aging-related physical impairment; prolapsed rectum; pinworms; anal warts sometimes caused by human papillomavirus (HPV); psoriasis; hemorrhoids; dyes or other agents in toilet paper.
DIY treatments: Wipe with unscented baby wipes rather than toilet paper — "and keep them in the refrigerator" for a cooling effect, suggests Rubin. (Just don't flush them down the toilet, unless you really miss seeing your plumber.) Apply diaper rash ointment or antifungal powders sold for vaginal infections before bedtime.
What a doctor may do: Check for diabetes or other possible causes of a yeast infection in the anus, and underlying colorectal conditions.
Noteworthy: Don't use a washcloth on an itchy bottom, warns Rubin. It's too irritating — and worsens itching. To check for pinworms — microscopic parasites in contaminated food that mature in intestines — place a piece of tape over your rectum at night and check for worms on the tape in the morning.
Next page: Unpleasant, unfortunate smells. »