Constipation can be a matter of infrequent bowel movements or stools that are hard to pass. Constipation is often defined as having fewer than three bowel motions weekly, or having small hard dry stools (poos) that are hard to pass in a normal manner and cause discomfort. When stools are significantly hard to pass for any period of time, other complications such as haemorrhoids or fissures may develop. As each person has their own bowel patterns, any significant change in your own bowel habits should investigated, especially if there is any blood in your stool. Alongside constipation, people often also experience bloating, fatigue, flatulence and digestive discomfort. Other associated symptoms can include headaches, nausea and dry skin.
Constipation is a common symptom for young and old, and most people are aware of the need for adequate hydration, fibre and exercise to keep the bowels moving efficiently. Despite these measures, and despite further investigations, many people still experience constipation.
Nutritional deficiencies or imbalances can also contribute to poor bowel function, and constipation itself can change the absorption of nutrients from the bowel. Imbalances in magnesium, essential fatty acids and vitamin C can all contribute to bowel issues, but this is a highly individual matter.
Reactivity to certain foods can impact upon bowel function. Cow’s-milk intolerance is a well-established cause of chronic bowel problems, but for many there are other triggers. Often people are surprised that once they remove their reactive foods from their diet, their stools are normalised and frequency is normalised also. Having a ‘good’ bowel motion can be a very satisfying and joyous occasion for those who have had long-standing problems with constipation!