What is constipation?

Constipation is a common digestive problem that disrupts a person’s normal passing of stool. While many people experience short bouts of the condition, others suffer from it as a painful long-term problem.

Symptoms of constipation

Constipation is a difficult problem to define, largely because our digestive systems all function slightly differently. What may be normal for you might not be normal for someone else.

Constipation symptoms include:

  • Hard, dry or lumpy stools
  • Stools that are unusually large or small
  • Straining when going to the toilet
  • Feeling that your bowels are full
  • Fewer than three bowel movements a week (unless you know this is normal for you)
  • Stomach ache or pain
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite

Pain caused by constipation can range from a dull, constant tummy ache to shorter, sharper cramps felt across the abdomen. If you’re experiencing more severe, unmanageable pain or bleeding, it could be a sign of something more serious than symptoms of constipation and you should seek advice from your GP.

Causes of constipation

Struggling to clear your bowels and passing hard, dry stools when you do is a horrible feeling. Why does it happen? What are the root causes of constipation?

It’s not always easy to determine the exact cause of constipation, but we know that problems either begin when too much water is drawn back into your body from the large intestine, or when the muscles of the bowel aren’t working properly.

Underlying illnesses and medicines such as blood pressure drugs, iron tablets, anti-depressants, anti-convulsants and long-term use of laxatives can all affect your bowel movements.

Foods that cause constipation

If constipation affects you regularly, it’s important to look at your diet. Not drinking enough fluid and/or not eating enough fibre are common culprits. Particular foods that may cause constipation include:

  • Red meat
  • Dairy products
  • Refined sugars in products such as fizzy drinks and desserts
  • Iron-rich foods such as liver and shellfish

A healthy balanced diet, rich in fibre can help reduce constipation but most of us aren’t eating the right kinds of foods that offer us this. A high fibre food supplement can feed the gut bacteria in the gut and help bridge that gap.

Constipation treatment

Some people find that laxatives are helpful constipation remedies. But they don’t work well for everyone. If used repeatedly, they can make your bowels less able to function effectively on their own. A quick fix doesn’t solve the root cause.

Rather than dealing with the symptoms, think about addressing the root causes.

You should drink plenty of fluids and eat regular meals to help relieve constipation. Eating the right foods also has a lot to do with it.

A high fibre diet can increase stool bulk, which drives your digestive system into action. For adults, aim to eat about 30 grams of fibre a day by including the following foods in every meal:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Wholemeal bread and pasta
  • Wholegrain cereals
  • Brown rice
  • Flaxseed

If you’re not used to eating these types of food, introduce them to your body slowly. Some people find that the soluble fibre in fruit and vegetables is easier for their bodies to process.


If you have any concerns about your health, you should contact your GP or healthcare professional.

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