Constipation is a common complaint. It occurs when bowel motions become harder or drier than normal and are difficult to pass or when you are having fewer bowel movements than your regular pattern.
Bowel habit is very much an individual pattern and there is a large amount of variance. For some people, a daily bowel movement is normal for others it may be every couple of days. Bowel habit is dependent on many factors including, diet, exercise, age and gender.
Haven pharmacists have put together some valuable information for you about the symptoms of constipation, how to treat it and when it is advisable to speak to your pharmacist or GP. Your local Haven pharmacist is always on hand to discuss any health concern you may have, drop in any time.
What Are the Symptoms of Constipation?
If you answer ‘yes’ to the following questions you may be constipated:
- Do you often have fewer than three bowel movements in a week?
- Are your stools often hard and dry, or small and hard?
- Are you experiencing pain when passing stools?
- Do you experience blood in your stools?
Symptoms of constipation include:
- Straining with possible pain and difficulty passing
- Stomach discomfort and bloating
- Hard stools – specks of bright blood
- Children may be irritable and have a decreased appetite
- Less frequent bowel movements than your usual
With recurring constipation, the regular straining may cause people to develop haemorrhoids (piles).
What Causes Constipation?
Lack of fibre
- Fibre is necessary to maintain a healthy bowel habit. The fibre helps lubricate the bowel by absorbing water and keeping the stool soft and easy to pass. Eating refined foods or processed foods can also lead to a low fibre diet and result in constipation
Lack of fluids
- If you are dehydrated you will find it more difficult to pass stools as they are drier and harder. Babies are also at risk of constipation when they transfer to a solid diet or if they receive poorly prepared formula.
Lack of exercise
- Immobility is a major cause of constipation (especially in the elderly). Sedentary lifestyles or changes in mobility due to illness or injury can result in a change in bowel habit. Even sitting for long periods of time such as flying long haul flights can result in constipation.
- Medicine-induced constipation can be caused by the following: antidepressants, anti-Parkinson’s drugs, antipsychotics antihypertensive’s, pain killers (codeine), iron, epilepsy medicines, diuretics and antacids containing aluminium and calcium.
- Hormonal changes in pregnancy can cause constipation. This is especially common in the third trimester.
- Worry, stress and depression can often cause constipation. For many people their digestive system is heavily influenced by their emotional states and in situations of high anxiety gut motility can be significantly altered.
- Some medical conditions such as depression, bowel cancers, haemorrhoids (piles), diabetes and hypothyroidism can cause constipation.
- Children can become constipated during potty training due to anxiety and stress. In this time of change it is important to be supportive to your child and not put too much pressure on them to pass a bowel movement
How Can You Prevent Constipation?
Increase your fibre intake
- The recommended intake of fibre is 30g per day. This can be found in whole grain cereals, breads, pasta and brown rice. Nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables are also a dietary necessity for a healthy bowel habit.
Increase your fluid intake
- The recommended daily fluid intake is 1.5 litre or 6-8 glasses of water. Increase the water intake of breast fed and bottle fed babies for a short time until the constipation is gone
Increase your exercise
- Regular exercise is important for a healthy body and a healthy digestive system. For the elderly or unwell this may be gentle exercise such as regular walking.
Don’t delay your bowel movements
- By responding to “the call of nature” and trying to go to the toilet around the same time every day you can try to regulate your bowel motions – but it’s important to avoid straining.
Avoid caffeine – why?
- Coffee can actually make stools harder to pass because it is a diuretic, so it draws liquid out of stools. If you are constipated, avoid coffee and other diuretics such as alcohol and caffeinated tea and cola.
What is the Treatment for Constipation?
Laxatives can be habit forming if taken regularly. Therefore, they should only be taken for short-term relief of constipation. Ask your Haven Pharmacist for advice on what is best for you. Laxatives should not be used for weight loss purposes and abuse can result in serious medical problems.
When Should You See a Doctor About Your Constipation?
- If you see blood in stool – tarry, dark red or black
- If you have constipation for seven days or longer – for no obvious cause
- If your constipation coincides with weight and appetite loss
- If you have pain on passing causing you to suppress reflex
- If you are aged over 40 years old with sudden change in bowel habits -with no obvious cause
- If you suspect depression