Everyone has their own usual bowel habit. Constipation is a common digestive system problem, in which you are unable to open your bowels and pass a motion as easily or as often as usual, and it is often accompanied by hard, dry stools (faeces, bowel motions, poo). In terms of frequency, what constitutes constipation for one person may be normal for someone else. That’s because the normal frequency of bowel movements varies widely for individuals from three times a day to three times a week. What’s normal for you may not be normal for someone else.
Constipation may make you feel bloated or sluggish or experience discomfort or pain. Some of the most common causes of constipation can be treated at home. However, in some cases, constipation is caused by more serious illnesses and events, including tumours, so it is important not to over treat constipation with laxatives in place of seeking medical advice.
Consult Your Doctor if:
- Your usual bowel habit changes suddenly, especially if you are above the age of 40;
- You get alternating constipation and diarrhoea;
- Your bowel motions are painful to pass;
- Your stools are bloodstained or black and tar-like;
- You need to use laxatives regularly, for example every 2-3 days;
- You feel tired, unwell and are vomiting, have lost weight, have headaches or have a fever;
- You have had symptoms of constipation for more than 7 days, with no obvious cause;
- You have found that liquid or soft stools are leaking out of your anus.
Common Causes of Constipation & Self Care Advice:
- Not drinking enough water. It is recommended that you consume at least 6-8 glasses of water per day;
- Not eating enough fibre-containing foods, such as whole-grains, fresh fruit and vegetables. A fibre supplement, such as Benefiber, may be taken daily to help keep you regular;
- Losing body fluid (e.g. excessive sweating). Remember to keep well hydrated when you are in hot climates or participating in sport;
- Not exercising regularly or being less active than usual. It is recommended that you exercise at least 30 minutes everyday, or most days, of the week;
- Delaying passing a motion. If you feel like passing a motion, try to go to the bathroom as soon as you can. Do not ignore the urge to pass a bowel motion;
- A change of diet, daily routine or lifestyle. It may take a bit of time for your body to adjust to a new routine;
- Pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. If you are pregnant, try to keep well hydrated, eat enough fibre-containing foods and exercise regularly to avoid getting constipated;
- Hormone changes around the start of a woman’s menstrual period. Try to avoid using analgesics that contain codeine, as this could make constipation worse;
- Increasing age;
- Stress. Try to learn and practice relaxation techniques on a daily basis;
- Some medical conditions, such as depression, Parkinson’s disease and thyroid disorder. Follow your Doctor’s advice in managing your medical condition. If constipation seems to be an ongoing concern for you, it is best to raise this concern with your Doctor;
- Some medicines, such as iron and calcium supplements, pain relievers and antidepressants. Ask your Advantage Pharmacy for advice regarding your medicines. There may be a more suitable product, or a way to take the product, that could minimise your chance of being constipated;
- Bowel cancer or other bowel conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Speak to your Doctor if any bowel condition is concerning you. You can purchase an Insure Bowel Kit from your local Advantage Pharmacy. For anyone above the age of 50, it is recommended to have a bowel screening test done every year, as early detection is vital;
- Inappropriate use of laxatives. Ask your Advantage Pharmacy which laxative is best for you, and how long you can use it for.
In addition to the self care advice mentioned above, laxative medicines are sometimes required to help relieve constipation. There are several different types of laxatives available at your local Advantage Pharmacy. The choice of a laxative product depends on how severe you constipation is, the cause of your constipation, your age, and if you have any medical conditions. It is important to note that some types of laxatives can be habit forming and should only be used for short periods of time. Ask your Advantage Pharmacist if you require a laxative, which laxative would be best for you and your symptoms, and how long you should use it for. The main types of laxatives are listed below.
- Drink plenty of water everyday. At least 6-8 glasses per day.
- Include plenty of fibre in your diet.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week.
- Try to visit the toilet soon after meals, when intestinal muscles are the most active.
- Ask your Advantage Pharmacist or Doctor for advice regarding medical conditions or medicines which may cause constipation.