Doctors prescribe iron supplements for iron-deficiency anemia, which can develop when sufficient iron intake is not achieved through diet or with certain conditions such as heavy menstrual periods, pregnancy, Crohn's disease or kidney failure. A possible complication of taking iron supplements is constipation. Although iron supplement-related constipation causes discomfort, it is usually not a serious problem. Prevent or relieve constipation and keep things moving smoothly with a few dietary and lifestyle changes.
Work your way up to taking your full dose of iron to help your digestive system adapt to supplements, which minimizes constipation side effects. Start by taking half the recommended dosage. Gradually increase the dose every three days until you are taking the full recommended daily dosage of iron.
Separate your daily dose of iron into three smaller daily doses to reduce the likelihood of constipation.
Drink a full 8-ounce glass of water or orange juice with each iron pill to provide your intestines with the fluids necessary to produce softer stools. An added benefit to drinking orange juice is that it contains vitamin C, which increases the body's absorption of iron.
Eat a generous amount of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber. Fiber adds bulk to stools, making them easier to pass during bowel movements. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid recommends eating two to four servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables each day. Include fruits and vegetables in each meal and during snack times to meet your daily requirements.
Exercise each day to stimulate healthy bowel movements. Try physical activities such as walking, 20 minutes of light aerobics or a bike ride.
Use the restroom as soon as you feel the need. Holding bowel movements can lead to constipation.
Take a stool softener when needed to relieve constipation. Stool softeners increase the water content in stool, making them softer and easier to pass during bowel movements. Stool softeners can be taken daily or every other day during periods of persistent constipation. Walgreens' Easy-Lax and Colace Stool Softener are two over-the-counter brands recommended by the University of Washington Medical Center.
To prevent overdose, never take more than the recommended dose of iron without permission from your doctor.
Iron blocks the absorption of some antibiotics. Inform your doctor that you are taking iron supplements before taking antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe a different antibiotic or recommend that you temporarily discontinue the use of iron supplements during the duration of your antibiotic cycle.
It is normal to have dark-colored stools when taking iron supplements. However, see a doctor if you experience tarry-looking black stools, red streaks in your stools, have abdominal cramps or sharp abdominal pains.
Keep iron supplements out of reach of children and pets. Contact poison control or an emergency room immediately if children or pets accidentally ingest iron supplements.
Contact your doctor for advice if home remedies fail to relieve constipation symptoms.