Constipation emergencies are on the rise. Seriously. And it’s costing billions.

According to a recent study, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, data collected from more than 950 U.S. hospitals showed nearly a 42 percent increase in emergency department visits related to constipation from 2006 to 2011. During the same time period, overall emergency room visits rose by 22 percent.

And, as the number of people going to U.S. emergency rooms for constipation has increased, so has the cost of those visits – to the tune of about $1.6 billion.

The elderly and infants were most likely to wind up in the emergency room for constipation.

Indeed, about 42 million Americans are persistently stopped up, making constipation one of the most common gastrointestinal problems in the United States, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Some people believe constipation is inevitable as they get older.

Truth is, healthy aging is not associated with an increased risk of constipation. It usually has more to do with your underlying medical conditions and the medications that you take.

The bottom line: talk to your doctor. Before your discomfort becomes an ’emergency’.

Lifestyle modifications, like eating a high-fiber diet, drinking plenty of water and getting enough exercise, can also help.

Fiber to the rescue

What exactly is fiber and where does it come from?

  • Fiber is what’s left over when all the other parts of food have been digested.
  • Fiber is found in all plants we eat. Many whole-plant foods are rich in different types of dietary fiber.
  • Fiber can be soluble, which dissolves in water, and insoluble, which does not.
  • Fiber both softens and bulks up the stool, and is essential for both digestive and overall health.

While most of us understand that fiber is good, the challenge is eating enough of it.

If you’re a woman age 50 or younger, you should consume 25 grams of fiber per day. If you’re older than 50, you need 21 grams.

Men who are 50 or younger should consume 38 grams of fiber per day while those older than 50 need 30 grams.

Let’s take a look at some of the top fiber-rich foods you can add to, or increase in, your diet: