Health conditions

Constipation

What is constipation?

Constipation is when you have difficulty passing stools (poo), need to strain when going to the toilet or have infrequent bowel movements.

You may also experience abdominal bloating, pain, nausea, vomiting or hard and dry stools.

Everyone has different bowel habits, with 3 times a day to 3 times a week being normal.

Causes

  • not drinking enough fluid
  • not eating enough fibre
  • lack of physical exercise
  • some medications such as codeine and opioids or the over use of laxatives
  • pregnancy
  • emotional problems
  • medical conditions such as diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome
  • ageing process
  • poor bowel habits such as not passing stools when you feel the need.

Treatment

Constipation can be very uncomfortable and in most cases can be treated by simple lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake, increasing exercise and eating a diet rich in fibre. Fibre helps a person's bowels to work properly and regularly. Some foods that contain fibre include bread and cereals, wholemeal pasta and brown rice.

Make sure you do not suppress the urge to use the toilet or use laxatives unless they are prescribed.

However, some people may need more tests to be arranged by their GP such as thyroid function test, a colonoscopy or a gastroscopy.

To treat or reduce your risk of constipation:

  • drink plenty of water (6–8 glasses per day)
  • increase your fibre intake with foods such as wholegrain breads, fresh fruits, prune juice (natural laxative)
  • limit intake of junk food
  • exercise regularly
  • go to the toilet when you feel the need
  • take medication only as directed
  • get your clinician or pharmacist to check the medications you take.

See your GP or visit an emergency department if you develop any of the following:

  • the constipation has not settled within a few days
  • there is blood in your bowel motions
  • you have severe stomach pains, bloating or swelling
  • you have repeated vomiting
  • your bowel habits change suddenly.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Remember

  • Constipation is when you have difficulty passing stools (poo), need to strain when going to the toilet or have infrequent bowel movements.
  • In most cases constipation can be treated by simple lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake, increasing exercise and eating a diet rich in fibre.
  • If symptoms persist, tests may need to be arranged by your GP.

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

Link to HealthyWA Facebook page