What is constipation?
Constipation is when your bowel movements are less frequent and more difficult than normal. Normal
bowel habit can vary with each individual and this can be anything
from 3 stools per day to 3 per week. A stool should be solid but moist and easy
Constipation is a common problem, which most of us
will experience at some point in our lives. However, constipation
is more common in the elderly and during pregnancy.
What causes constipation?
Constipation can be caused by certain
types of medicine such as, certain antidepressants, iron supplements,
painkillers, cough medicines (containing codeine) or antacids (containing
aluminium or calcium for indigestion).
Constipation is more likely to occur if you have a
diet low in fibre, yet high in fats, found in foods such as cheese,
eggs and meat. Good sources of fibre include fresh fruit and vegetables,
brown bread, brown rice and potatoes with their jackets.
Constipation can also occur if you don't empty your
bowels when you need to, have a change in diet or when you travel
abroad. On rare occasions constipation may also be a side effect
of an underlying illness. Illnesses that can cause long term constipation
include irritable bowel syndrome, strokes, diverticular
disease and colon
What are the symptoms of constipation?
Constipation can be uncomfortable but it is rarely
anything to worry about. The main symptom of constipation is the
lack of bowel movements from what you are used to. Then when you
do go finally manage to go to the toilet you find you are straining
and feel like your bowel has not been completely emptied. The stools
when they do come, are usually hard and dry and are often described
as 'rabbit droppings'.
Other symptoms you may experience with constipation
may include a bloated stomach and flatulence.
Women may find sexual intercourse is painful if the bowel is very
If constipation carries on it can lead to problems
such as haemorrhoids.
How can I avoid getting constipation?
To avoid getting constipation you should stick to
balanced diet, get regular exercise, drink plenty of
water and avoid foods that might make your constipation worse, such
What is the treatment for constipation?
Constipation can usually be treated at home. Try the
following to ease the symptoms:
- Eat a healthy balanced diet with lots of
high fibre foods, such as wholemeal bread, pasta, bran cereals,
fruit and vegetables. Prunes and beans are especially good.
- Try to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water
or other fluids a day. Fruit juices are very good to drink.
- Get plenty of exercise.
- Try to get in a regular pattern of bowel
movements, try to go the first hour after breakfast.
- Always go to the toilet when you need to
and avoid straining too much, sit there for at least 10 minutes,
regardless of whether you manage to go.
- Rather than use laxatives,
try taking 1-2 dessertspoonfuls of vegetable oil.
- Take fibre supplements, such as Fybogel,
which comes as a powder and is mixed up, then drank.
Use laxatives as a final resort, as long term use
of laxatives can damage nerve cells in the colon and the colon will begin to rely on laxatives to bring on bowel
If none of the above methods work ask your local pharmacist
Do I need
to go and see a doctor?
Constipation will usually improve on its own or after
you treat yourself (see above). However, you should go and see your
- You have severe or persistent constipation.
- There is any blood in your stools. We offer
a bowel disorders test on this website, which looks for the presence
of blood in stools, click
here for more information or to buy.
- You are losing weight without knowing why.
- Your bowel movements are painful.
- You have pain in your lower abdomen.
When you visit your doctor he/she may want to perform
a general examination and may examine your abdomen and the back
passage with a gloved finger.
If the doctor is unsure about the cause of constipation
then he/she may want to check whether the colon is normal by arranging
further tests. Tests you may have could include:
- Barium enema x-ray - a liquid called barium
is put into the bowel via the rectum and shows up on an x-ray, allowing the doctor to see any abnormalities.
- Sigmoidoscopy - a thin tube is passed through
your back passage to look inside the colon.
- Colonoscopy - similar to a sigmoidoscopy,
but the tube is longer and more flexible.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome