Constipation affects anywhere between 8 – 50 % of the UK’s population (1). Unfortunately, because publicly discussing your bowels is not really the norm, many people do not know their symptoms of constipation are abnormal.
Constipation, can lead to haemorrhoids, bloating, fatigue, lack of appetite and can be a sign of lack of fibre in the diet. Lack of fibre is linked to bowel cancer (2). So getting in touch with having healthy bowels is an extremely serious issue.
These are the main symptoms of constipation, see if you can recognise any (3).
- Are you bloated? If your food is not moving through your gut effectively then this can lead to bloating. Bloating can cause a distended stomach and abdominal pain.
- How often do you open your bowels? We all open our bowels differently and not going every day, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are constipated. Because of this, it is really difficult to give 1 absolute target for everyone. So at the minute it is thought that anything less than 3 times a week indicates constipation.
- How hard is it to go? If you find yourself straining at least 1/4 of the time then this is sign of constipation. Straining can also lead to hemorrhoids which can often cause light coloured blood in your stools. If this does happen then it isn’t anything to panic about but do go and see your GP.
- Is it satisfactory? The technical term for this is ‘incomplete evacuation’ – lovely! But when you open your bowels, are you left feeling like there is still some ‘up there’? This happening 1/4 of the time is again a sign you may be constipated.
- Does it ever get so bad that you need a ‘helping hand’? In some cases it is extremely difficult to go to the toilet and sufferers may end up using their hands to perform what is known as a ‘manual evacuation.’
- What do your stools look like? Below is a chart which dietitians use to monitor a person’s digestive health symptoms. We all tend to get a range of these stools at times but ideally you want to be at a ‘type 4.’ Anything around the 1-3 range is indicative of constipation.
Constipation can have an underlying medical cause, so if you have these symptoms, then please see your GP. Your GP or your pharmacist will also be able to advise you on the best laxatives to take should you need them.
While a ‘medical’ approach may be needed for your symptoms, the more common issue is an unhealthy lifestyle. Constipation comes down to 3 important factors – movement, fluid and fibre. If these 3 factors have been optimised then usually there is no need for medications.
If you would like further advice on how to tackle constipation and start feeling more comfortable then please contact me today.