What causes constipation Just because you get constipation it doesn’t have to mean you are unhealthy or even that you have an unhealthy lifestyle. You can follow a high-fibre diet, exercise every day, drink lots of water yet still get constipation from time to time. Even from childhood some people just seem to be more susceptible than others. There's really no need to feel you've brought constipation on yourself. However, certain things make constipation more likely: Diet - Dietary fibre provides the bulk that helps to speed the passage of waste food through the bowel. Lack of fibre results in harder, more compact stools, which take longer to pass through. Lack of fluids - Everyone is different but the body can need up to 2 litres a day to function efficiently. Without sufficient fluids, waste matter dries out, making it harder to move through the bowel. Lack of exercise - if you don't exercise often, things can slow down including the muscle contractions that move waste matter through the bowel. Stress - constipation can be caused by stress. Ageing - a lot of bodily functions slow down with age and the digestive system is just one of them. Medicines - whilst effective, some commonly used medicines are known to cause constipation, particularly certain painkillers, iron tablets and some antacids (e.g aluminium hydroxide). Ignoring the urge to pass stool can also cause constipation Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) sufferers often have constipation, sometimes alternating with diarrhoea. In IBS, cramping pains and discomfort in the bowel and rectum are common. Holiday constipation - is quite common. Any change of routine or diet can cause constipation. The important thing is to treat constipation as soon as it occurs. Why constipation should not be ignored When constipation only occurs once in a while, many of us tend to wait for it to go away by itself. After all, what real harm can it do? In fact, there are several reasons to treat constipation: Impact on quality of life The effects of constipation are not just restricted to your digestive system, as many people feel generally uncomfortable and less able to enjoy their day fully when constipated. Build-up of waste When you think about it, constipation is essentially food waste, that could be days old, sitting around in your body for longer than it should - you've been eating all different kinds of food but none of the waste from this is coming out. It builds up, getting heavier and heavier and you're carrying that around with you day after day – so it's no wonder constipation can make you feel uncomfortable. Sometimes certain changes in lifestyle can be very effective at relieving constipation. However, there may be times when you need a little help to get back to normal. What is essential is that we do not ignore our bodies - we need to recognise the symptoms and treat constipation accordingly. A combination of healthy living and giving your system a hand when it needs it is the key to taking control of your digestive health. The main medications are: (green - good - blue, so-so - red - avoid) These two groups are pretty much the same- bulk-forming laxatives – such as ispaghula husk and methylcellulose (Fybogel), which work in the same way as dietary fibre; they increase the bulk of your stools (faeces) by helping them retain fluid, encouraging your bowels to push the stools out - stool softener laxatives – such as arachis oil (peanut oil) and docusate sodium (Dioctyl, Docusol, DulcoEase, Norgalax), which increase the fluid content of hard, dry stools, making them easier to pass - osmotic laxatives – such as lactulose and polyethylene glycol (Miralax, Glycolax) which soften your stools and make them easier to pass by increasing the amount of water in your bowels - stimulant laxatives – such as bisacodyl (Dulcolax), senna and sodium picosulfate (Duloclax) , which speed up the movement of your bowels by stimulating the nerves that control the muscles lining your digestive tract. Wouldn't recommend these as they can cause quite a lot of cramps and other unpleasant discomfort. If things get really bad, a suppository or enema could be used, both available over the counter Enemas, such as the well-known Fleet enema, treat constipation by introducing fluid into the intestines through the rectum. The liquid softens impacted stool, while the enema nozzle loosens the rectal and anal muscles. That combination will stimulate a large bowel movement. How to use an enema The product is generally supplied in a ready to use container so all you need to do is take the cap off the nozzle, wet it and gently insert it into the anus as far as you can and gently squeeze the container until it is fully discharged. The effect might not be immediate but make sure you are fairly near to the bathroom! To use the enema try one of these positions: 1. Crouching or bending over, getting to your bottom which ever way is easiest for you. You may find it helpful to have something to hold onto like the side of the bath 2. Sitting on the toilet 3. Laying with your hips on your side so you can get to your bottom with your upper hand Using Suppositories There is an excellent explanatory site here - pictures and everything! It's so good there is absolutely no point in me trying to replicate it! How to Use Rectal Suppositories Impacted faeces This is a serious problem when constipation becomes long standing or chronic. Any constipation lasting longer than two weeks can be said to be chronic and at risk of becoming impacted. The next stage to this can be Faecal impaction, a serious condition where the faecal material in the upper part of the bowel becomes liquefied and pass around the block of faeces and exit as what looks like diarrhoea but it is much more watery than normal diarrhoea. Sometimes a patient can have a small bowel movement and then after believe they have got diarrhoea and assume it's because of all the remedies they've been taking. This may be true but sometimes it is not, especially if the diarrhoea is in small quantities and very watery. In this case, the patient should be checked by a doctor to ensure their bowels are not still blocked up.