Why am I constipated?
Try and identify which of the common causes of constipation (link to article one) may apply to you and take the appropriate action. The two most common causes I see in my practice are eating too little fibre and/or not drinking enough fluids (a particular problem during the hot summer months or in people who exercise regularly). Correcting both is relatively easy and should be the first line approach for anyone prone to recurrent constipation. Try the following steps:
- Try to increase your daily fibre intake gradually over a few days and try to eat at least 18 grams of fibre a day as recommended by the Department of Health Your practice nurse may be able to provide you with a leaflet detailing the fibre content of common foods but as a rough rule of thumb you should increase your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables (leaving the skin on where possible), switch from white bread to high fibre wholemeal types, and eat a portion of high fibre cereal (bran based) every morning. Children should also improve their fibre intake(baked beans are an excellent source of fibre – there is as much as 5 grams in a good serving). High fibre diets can sometimes aggravate constipation, particularly in the elderly, and if this happens you should seek medical advice.
- The other useful, and often forgotten, self–help measure is to drink plenty of fluid. If you become dehydrated your body will take excess fluid from the bowel making your stools firmer, harder and more difficult to pass. Aim for an intake of at least 2 litres a day – any type of drink (except alcohol of course!), including tea and coffee, will count towards this total. If you find it difficult to increase the fibre content of your diet – and many people do for a variety of reasons ranging from dietary preferences to lack of time – then consider a regular fibre supplement (ask your GP, pharmacist or practice nurse for advice). If your constipation persists despite these measures then seek medical advice.
Symptoms vary between sufferers. Some people just experience a spot of difficulty, having to ‘Strain’ on the toilet, while others may have physical discomfort, particularly:
- Stomach pains/stomach cramps.
- Feeling ‘Down in the dumps’.