Introduction of Constipation

Constipation is a common condition that affects people of all ages. It can mean that you are not passing stools (poo) regularly, or you are unable to completely empty your bowels.

Constipation can also cause your stools to be hard, lumpy, large or small.

The severity of constipation varies from person to person. Many people only experience constipation for a short time, but for others, constipation can be a chronic (long-term) condition that causes significant pain and discomfort and affects quality of life.

Read more information about the symptoms of constipation.

What causes constipation?

It’s often difficult to identify the cause. However, there are a number of things that increase the risk of constipation, including:

  • not eating enough fibre, such as fruit, vegetables and cereals
  • a change in your routine or lifestyle, such as a change in your eating habits
  • ignoring the urge to pass stools
  • side effects of certain medication
  • not drinking enough fluids
  • anxiety or depression

In children, poor diet, fear about using the toilet and poor toilet training can all be responsible.

Read more about the causes of constipation.

Should I see my GP?

You may be able to help treat constipation yourself by making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle. If these changes do not help, see your GP.

You should also speak to your GP is you suspect your child might be constipated.

Treating constipation

An oral laxative (medication to help you empty your bowels) is usually prescribed to treat constipation.

Treatment for constipation is effective, although in some cases it can take several months before a regular bowel pattern is re-established.

Read more information about treating constipation and diagnosing constipation.

Preventing constipation

Making diet and lifestyle changes, such as eating high-fibre foods, drinking plenty of fluids and regularly exercising will help to prevent or ease your constipation.

It may also help to give yourself enough time and privacy to pass stools comfortably and never ignore the urge to go to the toilet.

Read more about preventing constipation.


For most people constipation rarely causes any complications, but people with long-term constipation can develop:

  • haemorrhoids (piles)
  • faecal impaction (where dry, hard stools collect in the rectum)
  • faecal incontinence (the leakage of liquid stools)

Read more information about complications of constipation.

Who is affected?

Constipation can occur in babies, children and adults, and affects twice as many women as men.

Older people are five times more likely than younger adults to have constipation, usually because of diet, lack of exercise, use of medication and poor bowel habits.

Approximately 40% of pregnant women experience constipation during their pregnancy.

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