Constipation – What’s it all about?

Constipation affects people of all ages, from childhood to older age.

Constipation is when you find it hard to go to the toilet (poo) or you go less frequently than usual. Generally, it is characterised by the uncomfortable passage of hard, dry stools less frequently than your usual pattern.

Constipation can be difficult to define. In essence, it is a change to your usual bowel health pattern that is important, although going to the toilet less than three times a week and having difficulty in passing stools is likely to be constipation.

If you experience any change in your bowel habits, consult your doctor or pharmacist.

Rare cases of abdominal discomfort, bloating and feeling sick can accompany constipation. In some cases, constipation can become severe enough to block the bowel. Such obstruction would usually become evident by causing colicky pain, abdominal distension, and vomiting.


Constipation is often caused by not eating enough fruit and vegetables and wholegrain cereals, including wholegrain bread, brown pasta, and fibre containing breakfast cereals.

Inadequate intake of fluid and lack of physical activity or reduced mobility can also be responsible for constipation and as a result you should seek advice from a healthcare professional such as your doctor.

Physical disorders can also cause constipation, indicating a need to seek advice from healthcare professional such as a doctor.

Some medications can also cause constipation. Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you think your medication may be causing constipation.

Living with constipation

Constipation will usually respond to increasing dietary fibre, drinking enough fluid, and having regular physical activity. In the short-term, a laxative may be useful to recommend the immediate problem.

What is a laxative?
Laxatives are a type of medicine that can help treat constipation. They are often used if lifestyle changes, such as increasing the amount of fibre in your diet, drinking plenty of fluid and taking regular exercise, have not helped. There are health side effects associated with laxatives.

There are several categories of laxatives:

  • Bulk-forming laxatives, including bran, ispaghula, methylcellulose, sterculia, which increase faecal mass and stimulate peristalsis. They are used if fibre cannot be increased in the diet and must be taken with plenty of fluid.
  • Stimulant laxatives, including bisacodyl and senna, which stimulates peristalsis, increasing the motility of the large intestine. They should not be used for long periods without medical advice.
  • Faecal softeners, including docusate sodium and glycerol suppositories.
  • Osmotic laxatives, including lactulose, which increase the amount of water in the bowel by drawing fluid from the body into the bowel or retaining the fluid they were administered with.


Warning: Do not use laxative products when abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting is present unless directed by a healthcare professional. If you have noticed a sudden change in bowel movements that persists over a period of two weeks, consult your doctor before using a laxative. Do not use laxative products for longer than 1 week unless told to do so by a doctor. Rectal bleeding or failure to have a bowel movement after use of a laxative may indicate a serious condition; discontinue use and consult your doctor. If you are pregnant or nursing a baby, seek the advice of a healthcare professional before using these products. In case of accidental overdose, seek professional healthcare assistance immediately. Keep out of children’s reach.