What is constipation?

“Normal” bowel habit depends on the individual. For some this can mean opening their bowels three times a day, for others three times a week. Common causes of constipation are:

  • A diet low in roughage i.e. lacking fruit and vegetables
  • Lack of fluid intake
  • Lack of exercise
  • Medications
  • Ignoring the urge to “open your bowels”
  • Illness
  • Changes in everyday routines i.e. post surgery

If you open your bowels less than 3 times a week, have difficulty passing “stools” or pass very hard stools these are signs of constipation.

How is constipation diagnosed?

Diagnosis is fairly straightforward as you will have opened your bowels less than three times in a week, experience difficulty, including straining and taking a long time on the loo passing stools and you may be passing very hard stools.

Never hesitate to seek medical advice to ensure you receive treatment / intervention for your symptoms. Should you notice any bleeding or changes in your usual bowel pattern please visit your GP promptly because it may mean that you have a different bowel problem that will require tests.

How is constipation treated?

Treatment will be specific to you as an individual depending on the cause and severity of your problem. However, often simple measures will help:

  • Try to eat more fruit, vegetables and other foods that are rich in fibre (wholemeal bread, beans and nuts)
  • Make sure you eat regularly and do not go for long periods without food
  • Drink enough water or other fluids. (equivalent to six glasses of water a day)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Listen to your body and when you get the urge to open your bowels always try to make time to respond and go to the toilet

Laxative medicine used for a long time can make the bowel more sluggish and less likely to work effectively on its own.