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Constipation

There are many aspects of a 'change in bowel habit' that people and doctors will call constipation - but it should always at least include a decreased frequency of going to the toilet (not going so often) or a change to passing harder drier poo or motions.

People who get the feeling of not empting properly - or not passing enough poo (but they are still going to the toilet as often as before and they are passing harder stools) do not have ‘typical’ constipation. The feeling of 'inadequate emptying' or 'difficulty in passing a 'normal' motion  without going less often to the toilet is usually associated with conditions like piles.

BUT when the feelings of not finishing or difficulty in emptying are associated with going to the toilet more frequently or with persistently looser stools (often called by doctors 'tenesmus') this is usually associated with more serious conditions that require an examination by your doctor and perhaps investigation in hospital.  This pattern of symptoms may be described as ‘alternating constipation and diarrhoea’.

Important; Patients who go more often to the toilet with looser poo but complain of 'constipation' because they feel they aren’t emptying or passing enough poo - and this persists for more than 3-4 weeks - always need investigation in hospital.   

If you are feel you are “constipated” in some way, you could try:

• A higher fibre diet with more fruit and vegetables, more wholemeal bread and cereals - prunes and figs may help to soften the stool.

• Not drinking enough? Increase fluid intake (water, tea, juice and coffee).

• Don’t delay going to the loo when you have the urge.

• Exercise can stimulate the muscles in the gut to work more effectively - joggers often find they go more frequently.    Brisk walking can work wonders

• Remedies recommended by your pharmacist, like Lactulose (which makes the motions softer), Fybogel (which adds bulk to the motion), Sennakot (which stimulates the bowel to work).

• Don’t use laxatives for months without consulting your doctor. If they work, stop taking them after a few weeks or couple of months and, if your bowel action doesn’t stay normal, see your GP.

• It’s ok to strain a bit to stimulate the bowel to work but too much straining isn’t helpful - waiting till you get a stronger urge to go should do no harm.

Chatting through your symptoms with a pharmacist to test them before you see making an appointment with your doctor is a good idea – but if you have persistent symptoms (day after day) for 3-4 weeks, see your GP

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