Constipation is a problem that affects everyone – no matter what age you are – but it can become more of a problem as you get older.  Constipation is not a natural part of aging, so you do not have to put up with the discomfort and worry it can bring.

Up to 20% of 40-50 year olds and nearly 40% of people over 74 years experience constipation.

Why do I get constipated?

Constipation, even if you are otherwise healthy, can be caused by lifestyle factors such as:

  • Not taking enough fluids
  • Poor diet – or having a diet low in fibre
  • Being sedentary – the less mobile you are, the more of an issue constipation can become

coloxyl-constipation-in-elderly

Constipation can also be a side-effect of certain medications you may be taking, or the consequence of various conditions that become more common as we get older, such as:

Medications

  • Antacids
  • Some Antidepressants
  • Diuretics
  • Iron supplements
  • Pain killers (such as opiates)

Conditions

  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Strokes

It is important when taking any medication to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the possible side-effects they may have and the best way to minimise them.

Other factors that can contribute to constipation include:

  • Ignoring the need to go to the toilet
  • A change in routines or diet, for example, when travelling
  • Periods of illness, when you may not be eating properly or are confined to bed
  • Surgery

Sometimes there may be more than one factor contributing to your constipation.

What are the symptoms of constipation?

The symptoms of constipation do not change as you get older and usually include the following:

  • You need to go to the toilet less often than usual
  • Hard or lumpy stools that may be painful to pass
  • Straining when trying to pass a bowel movement
  • Feeling that your bowel hasn’t emptied fully after passing a stool

What can I do if I get constipated?

There are various ways to help relieve constipation, but it is important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist first, particularly if you have been constipated for a while.

Lifestyle changes you can make to help manage constipation include:

  • Making sure you are eating regular, well-balanced meals – included fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole-grain breads and cereals to add bulk to your stool and help you stay regular
  • Drinking plenty of fluids – about 2 L or 8 cups a day (unless you have been advised to limit your fluids)
  • Being as active as you can each day
  • Not ignoring the urge to use the toilet
  • Maintaining a regular toilet time; going in the morning or soon after a meal when the bowel is most active can help; make sure you have plenty of time and don’t rush
  • Think about how you ‘go to the toilet’ – positioning on the toilet can be important, using a squatting position with your knees above your hips and leaning forward is the best position.  Using a small footstool may help.

Which constipation treatments can help?

Lifestyle changes are usually the first step in treating constipation.  It is important to talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about the different lifestyle changes you can safely make before trying anything.

If lifestyle changes don’t work well, then you may need to use a laxative for a short time. The type of laxative that is best suited to you will depend on several things including other health conditions you may have, and the medications you are taking – so it is important to seek advice before taking any laxative.