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What is constipation?

Constipation is generally a temporary condition where it becomes difficult and/or painful to have a bowel motion due to faeces becoming hardened in the bowel. It also describes where a person has infrequent bowel movements, which is generally, but not always, linked to the hardening of faeces described above.

What causes constipation?

Most bouts of constipation are caused by dietary factors, for example lack of fluid intake and/or lack of fibre (i.e. fresh fruit and vegetable intake) in the diet, and / or some form of slowdown in physical activity.

How is it treated?

Reversing the causes above by increasing water and fibre intake and increasing physical activity levels will generally result in constipation clearing. Occasionally laxatives may be needed to help pass a bowel motion.

Where a longer-term episode of constipation occurs and the cause cannot be traced to these factors, you should visit the doctor to determine what is causing the constipation. You should also go to see the doctor where your bowel habits have changed or where the constipation is particularly severe.

Where changes to diet and lifestyle and/or taking laxatives do not result in the constipation clearing up, there are some surgical options. These normally involve a short section of the bowel being surgically removed, which effectively shortens the bowel and makes having a bowel motion much easier. After the procedure most patients no longer need to take pain medication or any form of laxative.