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Practical constipation advice
Constipation usually manifests itself in one of three ways: irregularity; difficulty or strain when passing stools; or the inability to completely empty the bowel.
Constipation affects people of all ages, and can differ from person to person.
Twice as many women suffer from constipation than men, and around 40% of expectant mums experience constipation at some point during pregnancy.
Common symptoms of constipation
Constipation is medically defined by three key indicators: difficulty or strain when passing stools; hard, lumpy or unusually large or small stools; and irregularity, where sufferers only open the bowels three times a week or less.
Constipation causes sufferers to become less regular, but in most cases, the symptoms only last for a short time, with no long-term effects.
Constipation can be caused by a poor diet which lacks fibre, lack of fluid intake, anxiety, immobility and body weight. Older people are particularly affected by constipation, with pensioners five times more likely to experience constipation symptoms than younger adults.
In children, constipation can result in a lack of energy, abdominal pain, irritability, loss of appetite and a general 'poorly' feeling. Adults may notice associated symptoms such as bloating, nausea and cramps.
Chronic constipation - an on-going condition - can lead to other problems, such as faecal impaction.
Practical treatment and advice
Constipation is not normally a chronic problem and can be treated, although it may take several weeks before sufferers become regular again.
For parents whose children experience constipation, it's worth changing your child's diet so it includes more fibre and fluids, and incentivising them to use the toilet regularly.
If you are suffering from constipation, some simple lifestyle changes may help alleviate the symptoms.
- Eating more fibre is a good place to start - aim for around 20g a day.
- Drink six to eight glasses of water a day to increase your hydration levels.
- Get regular exercise.
- Try to get into a toilet routine based around specific times of the day.
- If you are experiencing pain and discomfort, do not take codeine based pain killers such as co-codamol as these may make the problem worse. Taking products containing ibuprofen for the pain is not advisable but paracetamol may help.
Different laxative products are also available, which can provide gentle relief from constipation. These are available as laxative tablets, senna-based chocolate, or stool softeners. Bulk-forming laxatives stop stools drying out in the colon, so they are easier to pass. Stimulant laxatives, like senna, stimulate the digestive muscles, making it easier for waste to travel along the digestive tract. Stimulant laxatives are fast-acting and can work within 12 hours but may cause cramps in some people.
Constipation is a common problem which most people suffer from at some point in their life.
What is IBS? Symptoms of this condition are abdominal pain and bloating, plus diarrhoea and/or constipation.
Acute diarrhoea usually occurs suddenly and lasts a short time. Chronic diarrhoea continues for a long period of time.