Reviewed by Dr Claudia Pastides, 24th April 2019
Constipation is a digestive problem which makes it hard to pass stools regularly. It’s an extremely common condition which affects babies, children and adults – everyone will likely experience it at some stage. Most people only suffer with constipation for a short period of time, however it can also be a long term chronic condition which affects quality of life.
If you are constipated you may be going to the toilet less often than usual to open your bowels or passing hard or painful stools. It’s important to see a doctor for treatment if you are suffering from constipation because long term it can cause haemorrhoids and faecal impaction.
The main symptoms of constipation are:
- Finding it difficult, even painful to pass stools
- Passing stools less frequently than normal for you
- Not emptying your bowels completely
- Faeces which are hard and dry
- Stools which are unusually large or small
- Stomach ache
- Loss of appetite/nausea
What causes constipation?
There are a number of reasons why you might become constipated. The condition is more likely to affect women than men. Here are some of the major contributing factors:
- Not eating enough fibre/eating a poor diet
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Ignoring the need for bowel movements
- Certain medications, e.g. painkillers like codeine/co-codamol, iron tablets, some antidepressants
- Medical conditions like an underactive thyroid gland, irritable bowel syndrome and other gut disorders
- Mental health issues including anxiety and depression
In children, toilet training issues can also lead to constipation.
Usually you can treat mild constipation at home with diet and lifestyle changes e.g. by actively seeking a high-fibre diet: eating more fruit, vegetables and wholemeal grains and drinking more fluids. There are also over the counter treatments you can try. However if this isn’t effective you should speak to a GP who should be able to give you a prescription for oral laxatives. This will help you empty your bowels regularly, and should relieve the discomfort from passing hard stools.
Discuss your symptoms with a Babylon GP during a video consultation, who will be able to identify the cause and recommend treatment.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.