Constipation is very common in Australia. It affects up to 1 in 10 children and 1 in 5 adults. In addition to causing unpleasant symptoms, it may lead to complications. Constipation may also be a sign that you have a more serious underlying condition.

What is constipation?

Constipation is defined as having hard, dry stools (faeces, poo) that are passed with difficulty and reduced frequency. This may mean, for example, you’re only able to pass stools with excessive straining, often less than three times a week.

Common causes include not having enough fibre or fluids in your diet and a lack of exercise. Less common, but more serious causes, may include irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes and thyroid disorders.

Complications may develop due to chronic constipation and constant straining, such as:

  • Haemorrhoids: damaged blood vessels in the rectum (final part of intestines, just above the anus)
  • Prolapse of the rectum (protrudes out of the anus).

What to do?

Go see your GP for a checkup if you have constipation. This is particularly important if you can only have a bowel movement after taking a laxative to soften and loosen your stools, or you have unexplained weight loss or bleeding.

Laxatives are generally the most common treatment for constipation (if you’re not already taking them). The recommended laxatives include bulking agents such as fibre supplements, stool softeners and stimulants, which also make the muscles in the bowel contract to increase movement of stools.

Other effective treatments that also help prevent constipation include:

  • High-fibre diet and/or supplement (25-30 g / day for adults, child’s age + 5 g / day for children)
  • Large amount of fluids
  • Regular exercise

For more information visit www.gesa.org.au