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Constipation occurs when bowel movements (stools) are dry and hard and can be difficult to pass. During constipation bowel movements may become irregular and you may only be able to pass small amounts at one time. Constipation can affect people of all ages from toddlers to the elderly, although it is more common in the elderly.      



Symptoms of constipation include:  

  • less frequent bowel movements,  
  • hard stools that may be painful to pass,  
  • bloating,  
  • abdominal cramping,  
  • blood in the stool,  
  • small, dark coloured bowel motions,  
  • straining to pass the stool, and/or  
  • feeling that the bowel has not fully emptied after a bowel movement.  



Stools are made up of excess waste, water and bacteria that your body excretes. Constipation usually occurs when too much water is absorbed from the food in the colon, leaving a dry and hard stool at the end of the digestive tract.  


Factors that cause or worsen constipation include:  

  • a low fibre-diet (not enough fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and cereals in the diet),  
  • lack of exercise/ reduced mobility,
  • delaying going to the toilet when you have the urge (stool-holding),  
  • ageing (risk for constipation increases as you age as they muscles of the bowel weaken),  
  • side effects of certain medications,  
  • not drinking enough fluid,  
  • lifestyle change (such as travel or shift work),  
  • recent illness,  
  • surgery,  
  • pregnancy,  
  • bowel conditions such as haemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome or diverticular disease,  
  • slow-transit (takes longer for faeces to travel down to the rectum and more water is removed), or  
  • extended laxative use.  



Treatment depends on the cause of constipation but can include:  

  • dietary changes such as increasing your fibre and/or fluid intake,  
  • increasing physical activity to activate the bowel muscles,  
  • speaking to your health care professional about medications to soften or activate the bowel.      



The content displayed on this webpage is intended for informational purposes and is a guide only. It does not replace or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.   Information contained on this webpage must be discussed with an appropriate healthcare professional before making any decisions or taking any action based on the content of this webpage.  



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Continence Foundation of Australia