Telehealth Doctors and Psychologists Australia

Updated 13 September 2021



What is Constipation?

Constipation is one of the commonest medical complaints in Australia and occurs in adults and children. Almost everyone gets constipated at some time in their life. Constipation is where the passing of bowel motions is infrequent or where they may be difficult to pass. When the bowel bowel motion does pass it is hard or dry. As a general guide, sufferers of constipation have fewer than 3 bowel movements a week. As you consume food, the water and moisture from the food is absorbed by the walls of the small intestine and as a consequence of this, waste passes through the large intestine. The waste is then propelled down the rectum, where it is stored until it is evacuated through the anus. However, where stool is not evacuated and actually stays in the colon or rectum for a long period of time, the stool loses most of its moisture and becomes dry, hard and extremely difficult to eliminate. When this happens, the person involved is said to be constipated.

Common Symptoms of Constipation

Constipation may be mild or chronic in nature and the common symptoms displayed by sufferers of this digestive problem include; - Irregular emptying of the bowels, - Opening bowel less often than normal, - Dry, hard and lumpy stool, - Straining to pass a bowel action, - Needing to sit on the toilet longer than is usually required, - A bloated feeling, - Straining during bowel movements, - Sensation of incomplete elimination of stool, - Abdominal cramps, - Sensation of having stool blocking your anus, and

What are the causes of Constipation?

Constipation may be caused by a number of reasons, but the most common causes of constipation include; - Inadequate Diet: Your diet needs to have a proper balance of fibre, minerals, proteins, carbs, vitamins and the right amount of water. When this is lacking, there is a greater likelihood that your stool will be hard and you would suffer from constipation. - A lack of enough Dietary Fibre: Fibre is important for helping to soften stool and aid easy elimination of waste from the body's digestive system. - A Sedentary Lifestyle: A lack of regular exercise is also a major cause of constipation. When you workout, you help your body to metabolise food quicker and the body uses the energy from the food during your exercise. However, a sedentary and inactive lifestyle slows down your rate of metabolism which can lead to digestive problems like constipation. - Dehydration: Dehydration is as else as else cause of constipation. You can remedy this problem by drinking sufficient amounts of water everyday. Drinking eight cups of water daily can help to relieve you from constipation issues. - Delay in Evacuating Stool: You should visit the toilet whenever you feel the urge. Whenever you delay your use of the toilet, you increase your risk of being constipated as the stool remains in your rectum where it loses more moisture and eventually becomes dry, hard and extremely difficult to eliminate. - Stress: Stress is known to adversely affect many bodily functions. One of the problems of stress is that it can lead to a delay in the urge to empty your bowels. Another problem of stress is that it can drastically slow down the peristalsis function of your colon and this causes constipation. Constipation may also be caused by the following; - A change in your regular routine caused by travelling, for example. - Certain medications such as pain killers or iron tablets, - Some medical conditions such as Diabetes or Parkinson’s Disease, - A problem with the gastrointestinal system such as Irritable Bowel, Syndrome, Diverticulitis or Haemorrhoids, - When you are due to get your period, - Pregnancy, and - Incessant use and even abuse of laxatives.

How is Constipation Diagnosed?

Constipation is diagnosed by a medical doctor who proceeds to get as much information as possible from the patient. Some of the information required by the doctor before a diagnosis can be made include; - information on the patient's lifestyle, - information on the patient's medical history including details of medication previously or currently used, and - information on the symptoms experienced by the patient. A physical examination would normally be carried out by the doctor on the patient which usually confirms the diagnosis of constipation. Sometimes further investigations are necessary, especially if other symptoms are present, to ensure more serious causes of the constipation, such as bowel cancer, are not present.

Preventing and Treating Constipation Concerns

Constipated can be prevented and treated by taking active care of your eating habits and lifestyle. It is important to adopt a diet that is high in fibre like cereals and wholegrain. Fruits and vegetables also work wonders in helping your bowel movements, and drinking lots of clean water is also very important. You should also avoid a sedentary lifestyle and exercise at regular intervals daily or every other day. In addition to this, you should always try to use the toilet whenever you feel the urge, as delaying can lead to constipation. If the above measures do not work then it is important to see your doctor for further advice. One option is to recommend a laxative to help with your bowel movements.

Recovery from Constipation

The period of recovery from constipation varies from one individual to another. While a laxative may be all that is needed by a person to recover immediately from a constipation issue, others may require an enema in addition to a laxative. However, if you suffer from chronic constipation, then this may be an indication that you need to make life changing decisions. The rate of recovery from chronic constipation will depend on your diet, exercising habits, and overall lifestyle choices.

Complications of Constipation

There are a number of complications of constipation and some of these include; - Hemorrhoids: Constipation can force sufferers to strain while trying to empty their bowels. The straining can lead to the development of hemorrhoids in and around the anus, - Anal fissure which is torn skin in your anus caused by a large or hard stool passing through the anus, - Faecal impaction which is the accumulation of faeces which hardens and gets stuck, - Rectal prolapse where a small amount of rectum protrudes from the anus caused by straining when trying to have a bowel movement.