What is constipation?

Constipation is the passing of hard, dry bowel motions (stools) that may be infrequent or difficult to pass.

Numerous conditions can lead to constipation by disrupting the normal process of absorption and stool formation. Constipation is a common gastro-intestinal disorder and affects most people at some time in their lives. Potential causes are extensive however in most cases constipation will be caused by factors that slow down the bowel such as inadequate fluid intake, low-fibre diet, lack of physical activity, poor toileting habits or medications.

Everyone has their own bowel habit. The ‘normal’ frequency of bowel motions in Western countries varies from 3 times per day to 3 times per week.1 There is no strict definition of what is a normal bowel motion as it differs so widely in the community however bowel movements are typically considered infrequent if they are less than three times per week.
There are numerous causes of constipation some of which are listed below.

Lifestyle Causes

  • Change in routine
    A change in travel or work patterns may have an effect on bowel movements.
  • Low fibre diet
    Fibre adds bulk to stools allowing them pass more easily through the system. People with low fibre diets should consume higher fibre foods such as cereal, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Insufficient water intake
    Water makes up around 75% of our stools and helps them to pass more easily through the system.
  • Lack of regular exercise
    Sedentary lifestyles or people with restricted movement have less active gastro-intestinal systems.
  • Ignoring the urge to go
    Ignoring the urge to go results in more water being extracted from stools, making them more difficult to pass. Children often experience constipation as they hold back bowel movements or forget to go to the toilet.
  • Medication
    Some medications such as anti-depressants, narcotics, iron supplements, calcium channel blockers (anti-hypertensives) and non-magnesium antacids are known to slow bowel movements and seemingly ‘clog’ us up. You may also experience constipation following surgery.
  • Pregnancy
    Changes in hormone levels, reduced activity and pressure on the intestine from the growing uterus may result in constipation for some women.
  • Ageing
    Reduced activity levels, reduced intestinal muscle contraction and increased reliance on medications may result in constipation.
Medical Causes

Sometimes constipation is a symptom of a more serious condition. Check with your doctor if motions are blood-stained or black and tar-like, bowel habits change frequently from constipation to diarrhoea, motions become painful to pass, you are unwell experiencing fever, headache, vomiting and recent weight-loss.
A combination of laxatives and lifestyle changes are often sufficient to relieve the symptoms of constipation. Stool softeners such as Coloxyl 50mg & Coloxyl 120mg help to increase the water content in stools, making them easier to pass.

Coloxyl with Senna tablets (30s, 90's and 200s ) deliver effective overnight relief of constipation because they have a dual action formula to stimulate the bowel and soften the stools. Sennosides act to help stimulate muscles of the bowel to increase the peristaltic action that helps to move stools through the digestive system and the stool softener makes the motion more comfortable to pass.

Constipation in infants can occur after starting formula or with the introduction of solids into the diet. Before treating with a laxative it is recommended you see your family doctor or a baby health nurse. Coloxyl Oral Drops for infants and young children is a gentle stool softening formulation that makes the stools easier to pass. Coloxyl Drops are added to a feeding bottle or fruit juice.

Lifestyle Choices
Making lifestyle changes will help to reduce the likelihood of constipation.
  • increases the amount of fibre in your diet.
  • increase your fluid intake.


Dieticians generally recommend about 30g of fibre every day3. Good sources of fibre include wholegrain cereals, bread, fruits and vegetables. Additionally, increasing the amount of water in the diet will assist in drawing water into stools. Increasing activity such as exercising about 30min every day helps to keep the body’s gastro-intestinal systems active.

Q:What is considered a ‘normal’ bowel function for an adult?

Normal bowel functions vary widely between different people. Everyone has their own bowel habit. The range can vary from once per week to several times every day, depending on the individual. The normal frequency of bowel motions in Western countries varies from 3 times per day to 3 times per week.

In general a person’s bowel movements are considered infrequent if they are 3 times or less per week or if it is difficult and painful during the passage of stools.

Q:Is constipation a disease?

No. Constipation is a symptom with many causes. These include diet and fluid intake, lack of exercise, medications taken, hormonal changes and many other causes. Some cases of constipation may be due to more serious problems so if you experience severe or recurrent constipation, it is important to see your doctor.

Q:Is constipation always associated with low fibre intake?

No. The general consensus amongst medical professionals is to begin therapy by increasing fibre and fluid intake if the existing diet is considered inadequate. There are however many other causes such as medications, pregnancy, reduced physical activity, changes in a person’s routine or ignoring the urge to go to the toilet which can all have an impact on the functioning of the bowel.

Q:When should I see my Doctor?

Sometimes constipation is a symptom of a more serious condition. Check with your doctor if you have recurrent or severe cases of constipation or if bowel motions are blood-stained or black and tar-like, bowel habits change frequently from constipation to diarrhoea, motions become painful to pass, you are unwell experiencing fever, headache, vomiting and recent weight-loss.


ALWAYS READ THE LABEL. TO BE USED ONLY AS DIRECTED. IF SYMPTOMS PERSIST SEE YOUR DOCTOR.
* IMS API Proprietary data Australia A6A - Laxatives Category - Units 1. Therapeutic Guidelines – Gastrointestinal Version 2 2011 2. Martindale. The Complete Drug Reference. 34th Edition, 2004. 3. www.gastro.net.au/diets/fibreboost Coloxyl® is a registered trademark of Aspen Pharma Pty Ltd. 34-36 Chandos Street, St Leonards NSW 2065 Australia