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Feeling blocked or starting to strain and want to know why? The causes of constipation are not always obvious, but by taking a closer look at your lifestyle, change in daily routine and underrelying medical problems you may be able to pinpoint the reason why you’re feeling constipated.

What is constipation?

Being constipated is a common problem with around 60% of adults feeling constipated at somepoint during the year! Most people complain about not being able to ‘poo’ as often or as easily as normal or have other symptoms such as straining to pass hard or large poo, feeling blocked or not being ‘empty’ after going to the toilet.

Why am I constipated?

The reason why you are constipated can vary – it can increase with age, is common during pregnancy, can be linked to your diet or a change in routine, and can be a side-effect of some medications – or sometimes, it can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

Constipation, lifestyle and your daily routine

Sometimes your gut doesn’t like what you’re doing (or not doing) during your daily life. So, when looking for the cause of your constipation it’s a good idea to check out some of the common lifestyle causes first:

  • Poor diet
    Not having enough fibre (roughage) in your diet can lead to problems – fibre helps regulate your bowels by adding ‘bulk’ and softening your poo making it easier for it to move down and out of your digestive system
  • Dehydration
    Dehydration, whether through not drinking enough water or losing too much fluids through vomiting or diarrhoea, can also lead to constipation, particularly in children.
  • Lack of exercise
    Not being physically active is another common cause of constipation. Being upright and moving around helps stimulate your gut and helps to get things moving. So, if you’re a bit of a ‘couch potato’, have restricted movement or are bedridden for a period of time you may have constipation problems.
  • Changes in your usual routine
    Your gut likes things to stay regular, so when your usual routine changes so does your bowel movements. Being on holiday, travelling or doing shift work are all examples of when your normal daily routines often get upset and may lead to digestive problems such as consitpation.
  • Periods and pregnancy
    Fluctuating hormones just before a menstrual period can affect the normal working of the gut – leaving many women feeling constipated. Constipation is also a common problem during pregnancy (particularly in the 1st and 2nd trimesters) and is linked to pregnancy hormones, the growing uterus pressing on the bowel and some medications or supplements women may need to take.
  • Toilet habits
    How and when you ‘go’ to the toilet are important – ‘holding on’ and ignoring the urge means your poo stays in your bowels overtime and more water is likely to be extracted, making it harder and more difficult to pass. Overtime, if you regularly ignore the urge to go, your body may become less sensitive to the normal signals and constipation can become more of a problem.

Constipation and your health

Constipation can be a symptom of another underlying medical problem and can be associated with a wide range of different health issues, such as a painful tear in the lining of the anus, a hernia, surgery, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, Parkinson’s disease or a stroke.

Being constipated does not mean you have one of these conditions – but if your constipation does not appear to be related to your diet or lifestyle, it could be a result of something else going on in your body and it may be a good idea to get things checked out with your doctor.

Constipation can also be a side-effect of some medications you may be taking, such as those containing codeine or some antidepressants and iron suppliments. If you think your medication could be causing problems talk to your doctor and see if there are any alternatives you could take.

How do you prevent constipation?

Being more active and eating a healthy, high fibre diet with plenty of fluids may be all you need to make things regular again:

  • Try increasing your dietary fibre to about 30 g per day
  • Drink more fluids, but keep tea, coffee and alcohol to a minimum
  • Be as active as you can – ideally around 30 minutes of exercise each day

When lifestyle changes are not working for you it may be useful to use a laxative for a short time1q – but remember to seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist before taking any laxative to make sure its suitable for you.

Many people are embarrassed to see their GP about bowel problems – but if constipation is a problem or you find you are having to use laxatives regularly it’s important to see your doctor to make sure there are no underlying causes.

Read more about constipation in adults: