Constipation is caused by a number of underlying problems and it's vital that these are addressed if constipation is to be avoided in the long term. Lifestyle changes are important and should be tried first, but if they don’t solve the problem then stimulant laxatives can get your bowel working, and provide relief in the short term. However if you fail to address what caused the constipation in the first place then it may keep on returning as a recurring problem.
Why am I constipated?
The two most common causes for constipation are eating too little fibre and / or not drinking enough fluids (a particular problem during the hot summer months or in people who exercise regularly). Correcting both is relatively easy and should be the first line approach for anyone prone to recurrent constipation. Try the following steps:
- Try to increase your daily fibre intake gradually over a few days and try to eat 30 grams of fibre a day as recommended by the NHS. In order to increase your fibre intake, as a rough rule of thumb you should increase your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables (leaving the skin on where possible), switch from white bread to high fibre wholemeal types, and eat a portion of high fibre cereal (bran based) every morning. Children should also improve their fibre intake (baked beans are an excellent source of fibre – there is as much as 5 grams in a good serving). If you find it difficult to increase the fibre content of your diet - and many people do for a variety of reasons ranging from dietary preferences to lack of time - then consider a regular fibre supplement (ask your GP, pharmacist or practice nurse for advice). If your constipation persists despite these measures then seek medical advice.
- The other useful, and often forgotten, self-help measure is to drink plenty of fluid. If you become dehydrated your body will take excess fluid from the bowel making your stools firmer, harder and more difficult to pass. Aim for an intake of around 2 litres a day - any type of drink (except alcohol of course!), including tea and coffee, will count towards this total.
The cycle of constipation