Constipation is a common complaint that affects a lot of people. Anyone can be affected by constipation, but it’s more likely if you are pregnant or elderly. Even children experience constipation, particularly around the time of toilet training.
While it’s not usually a serious condition, being constipated can leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable. The good news is that chronic, ongoing constipation can often be resolved by simply improving your diet, being more active and making sure you have good bowel habits. Stimulant laxatives for a short time are helpful to overcome acute constipation.
What is constipation
Constipation is when your stools (poo) become hard and difficult to pass or your bowel motions are less frequent than normal. This can lead to a need to push or strain, and a feeling that your bowel has not fully emptied afterwards.
Not everyone has a bowel motion every day – ‘normal’ bowel habits can range from several times a day to 3 times a week. This makes it difficult to define constipation, so it is important to remember it is a change from your normal pattern that may mean you are constipated.
Understanding how your gut works can give you a better idea of what’s going on. When you eat, food passes from your stomach in to the small intestine where most of the nutrients are absorbed. It then travels down in to your large intestine (colon). Here, mostly just water is absorbed before the stools are passed out of your body.
If food moves too quickly through your gut not enough water is absorbed, making your poo soft or watery (diarrhoea). If food moves too slowly through your gut or is retained too long, more water is absorbed and your poo becomes hard and difficult to pass (constipation).
Normally, your poo is made up of about three quarters water, the rest being mostly undigested solids, fibre and fats.
What are the symptoms of constipation?
Common symptoms of constipation include:
- Needing to open your bowels less often than usual
- Hard, dry stools that may be painful to pass
- Straining when passing a bowel motion
- Feeling that your bowel hasn’t emptied fully after passing a stool
- Bloated abdomen
- Abdominal (tummy) cramps
What are some common causes of constipation?
A number of things can contribute to constipation.
Common lifestyle causes include:
- Low fluid intake
- Low fibre intake
- Lack of regular exercise
- Ignoring the urge to go
- A change in routine or diet
- A period of illness (particularly when bed rest is required)
Constipation can also be a side-effect of some medications including:
- Iron supplements
- Opioid pain killers
- Some antidepressants and other medicines
Occasionally, constipation may be a symptom of another problem. It is important to speak to your healthcare professional if constipation persists.
Which types of constipation treatments are available?
If you have constipation, the short-term use of a laxative may be required in order to restore your normal bowel habit. There are different types of laxatives and they work in slightly different ways.
The four main groups are:
- Bulk-forming laxatives (fibre supplements) that add bulk and also absorb water, to produce soft, bulky stools that are easier to pass
- Stimulant laxatives that stimulate your gut muscles and help push the stools out
- Osmotic laxatives to draw water into the stool
- Stool softener laxatives that work by wetting and softening a hard stool, making it easier to pass
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist first before taking any constipation treatment, they will be able to advise you on the best laxative to manage your constipation.
How can you prevent constipation?
A number of lifestyle changes can be made:
- Eat a well-balanced diet high in fibre, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain bread and cereals to add bulk to your stool and help you stay regular
- Drink plenty of water – for adults, aim to drink at least 2L of fluids a day
- Try to be as active as possible
- Try to maintain a regular toilet time; going in the morning or soon after a meal when the bowel is most active can help
- Don’t ignore the urge to use the toilet
The Coloxyl treatment range has been providing effective relief from constipation in Australia for over 40 years. As the experience of constipation may differ from person to person, the range is tailored to suit different needs with a step-wise approach to constipation treatment.