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Constipation

What is the definition of Constipation?
Constipation may be different to different people. For some, it means infrequent bowel actions, for others it means straining to empty one’s bowels or passing hard stools. People may feel that their bowels are not completely emptied. It is important to remember that the “normal” frequency of bowel actions is different for each individual, although less than three bowel actions a week is considered constipation.

What is the cause of Constipation?
Constipation is a common symptom. The most common cause of constipation is related to a low fibre diet. However, there are many other causes of constipation including specific medications and medical conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Diabetes and Hypothyroidism (amongst others).

Do I need to see a doctor?
Most people will experience constipation at some point in their life and the majority will notice an improvement in their constipation with dietary modification (increase in fibre intake), increased fluid intake, and/or increased physical activity. However, it may be necessary to see a doctor if these simple measures are not effective.

A consultation with your gastroenterologist is recommended if you have any of the following:

> Persistent change in bowel habits
> Family history of bowel cancer
> Bleeding from the back passage
> Weight loss
> Persisting abdominal pain

Do I need to have any tests?
Investigation for a cause of constipation may be required if dietary modification is not effective, or if there are any of the other symptoms mentioned above. Further investigation may include blood tests, X rays, colonoscopy, and/or specialised testing for bowel function.

What is the treatment for constipation?
The treatment for constipation depends on the cause. However, most people will notice an improvement with a change in diet or fibre intake. A high fibre diet is recommended. Laxatives may helpful in the short term, although if ongoing medication for constipation is required a medical consultation is recommended.

What other problems can constipation cause?
Longstanding constipation and straining may lead to other medical problems such as; haemorrhoids (also known as “piles”), anal fissures (tears in the skin around the back passage) or diverticulosis.

More Information?
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