Constipation refers to abnormally infrequent bowel motions and/or pain or difficulty when passing small, hard stools. A bowel motion every day is not always necessary. People’s bowel habits differ, and some people have a bowel motion only every second or third day — or longer.
Constipation is not the same as irregular bowel habits — it is when you have to strain to pass a bowel motion, which is usually hard.
Symptoms of constipation include:
You may also feel bloated or have abdominal pain. Occasionally, some people complaining of diarrhoea may in fact have ‘overflow’ diarrhoea as a result of constipation.
Haemorrhoids (enlarged, congested veins in the rectum or anus) and anal fissures (small tears in the skin of the anus) are complications that can result from constipation.
If you don’t drink enough fluids or get enough fibre in your diet, you may be more prone to constipation. Not getting enough physical activity can also cause constipation.
Ignoring the urge to defecate on a repeated basis can also cause constipation. It’s important to listen to your body and go to the toilet when you get the urge.
Sometimes a change in your daily routine – such as going on holiday – can trigger constipation.
Constipation is a possible side effect of some medicines and supplements, including:
Overuse of certain laxatives (medicines used to treat constipation) can also worsen constipation.
Constipation can be a symptom of many different bowel conditions including:
Constipation can also be caused by a partial obstruction of the bowel due to:
Constipation can sometimes be caused by an underlying condition. Conditions that can cause constipation include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform a physical examination. Depending on your history and physical examination findings, they may recommend tests such as:
You should seek medical advice if:
Last Reviewed: 27 May 2014