This article has been written and medically approved by Pharmacist Conor McSorley GPhC Reg No. 2223070

If your stools become harder than usual and you find it more difficult to pass them when going to the toilet you are likely to be suffering from constipation. You may also have the feeling that you are unable to empty your bowels completely. Nausea or bloating can sometimes accompany bouts of constipation as well as resulting in you losing your appetite, aches or cramps in your abdomen and passing stools less than three times a week.

Constipation is often the result of your lifestyle, with the following factors most likely at fault

  • Not eating enough fibre
  • Changing your eating habits, diet or daily routine
  • Ignoring the urge to go to the toilet
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not exercising enough

Other factors that may lead to constipation also include mental health conditions, such as depression, stress or anxiety as well as certain medications.

We are all different when it comes to how often we go to the toilet. Some people may go to the toilet more than twice a day while others can take up to three or four days to pass motion. Therefore, constipation will mean different things to different people but typically is short-lived and settles within a few days or up to 4 weeks at most. For a short period, it is completely harmless and should treat itself naturally, however, in some cases you may need to seek medical help, particularly if you have any of the symptoms below.

How can I treat it? 

Eat well - By eating a higher proportion of fruit, vegetables, seeds, pulses and cereals (oats or wheat bran) you can increase your daily fibre intake, not just alleviating symptoms but reducing the likelihood that they reoccur. The foods listed above work to make your stools bulkier but softer and therefore make them easier to pass.

Listen to your body – if your body is urging you to go to the toilet, then don’t delay it. Keerp to a regular time and place and give yourself plenty of time to use the toilet.

Stay hydrated and work out – Exercise helps improve your digestion and movement of food intake so that it is easier to pass. Avoiding dehydration by drinking plenty of water is also good for your bowels.

Medicine – Many preparations are available to help you pass motion. These include softeners, stimulants and suppositories.

When to seek medical help?

  • If you have been constipated or struggling to fully empty your bowel for more than six weeks
  • If your tummy becomes swollen or you start vomiting
  • If you are over 50 years and have never suffered from constipation before
  • If you think it may be caused by medication that you take or have recently started taking
  • If you notice blood in your stools or your stools are darker in colour
  • If you have other symptoms you are concerned about alongside the constipation (loss of weight, feeling tired, sweaty or feverish)