What is constipation?

As many as 14 million people in the UK suffer from constipation, ranging from the very young to the old. It is more common in women than men and increases in the elderly with age.

It is defined as a change in a person's normal bowel habit, such as visiting the toilet less often than usual, or when it becomes difficult to pass a motion. Bowel habit varies from person to person, so your normal bowel habit may not resemble the bowel habit of any of your friends or relatives, it is what is normal to you as an individual.

The severity of constipation can vary greatly from short irregular episodes (acute) to a more long-term chronic condition. Indeed in severe cases this can actually result in the condition known as faecal impaction, in which the faecal material, due to its dryness and hardness in the bowel becomes unable to move without some form of intervention. It can also result in faecal incontinence where there is an involuntary leaking of faecal material through the rectum from around the faecal mass stuck within the bowel.

Constipation can have various causes, including:

  • Drinking too little water
  • A low fibre diet
  • Pregnancy
  • Various medical conditions, or treatments

Or it could be idiopathic (No known cause).