Constipation is a common condition that affects thousands of patients. When you have constipation, this means that there is an inability to pass stools on a regular basis or you are unable to empty your bowels completely.

With constipation your stools can appear abnormal in size and/or be harder than usual. You may also notice symptoms such as abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and loss of appetite.

There are two types of constipation that exist: Acute and chronic.

Acute constipation often comes on quickly and can be the result of many factors, including certain medications (such as antidepressants, iron supplements, antacids, and opioids), a blockage in the bowels, being dehydrated, as well as a lack of physical activity. Acute constipation is also quite common in women who are pregnant.

Chronic constipation, which is more common, is often the result of having a poor or unhealthy diet. It is especially common in younger children, as they tend to ignore the urge to use the toilet. Chronic constipation can also be caused by other diseases such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), rectal or colon cancer, diabetes, kidney failure and hypothyroidism.

To relieve constipation, many individuals will turn to laxatives. While these can certainly provide quick relief from constipation, laxative overuse can eventually cause the bowels to become dependent on them, making the bowels feel as though there is less of a need to eliminate feces, and ultimately results in chronic constipation.

There are other medical ways in which constipation can be treated, although it is often simply a matter of making certain changes to your lifestyle. Physical activity can often help to stimulate the bowels, so it’s important to get regular exercise. You should also drink 8 glasses of water each day and increase your fibre intake by as much as 25g per day. Some great examples of fibre include whole grains (such as flaxseeds), fruits and vegetables.

If you have chronic constipation and find you’re not getting relief even after having made necessary lifestyle changes, you should book an appointment with your family physician as soon as possible.