Constipation

Constipation is not an illness in itself, but rather a symptom. Constipation is a difficulty in passing stools. It is hard to define it in general because everyone’s habits are extremely different. Passing stool three times a day is considered normal, as is a frequency of three times a week. Constipation can be seen as abnormal if the frequency of passing stool is often less than three times per week, if the stool is hard and if passing it is irregular, incomplete, difficult or painful.

Causes of constipation

Numerous factors may cause constipation:

  • A sedentary lifestyle (a lack of physical activity).
  • Unsuitable nutrition, with little intake of fibre and liquids.
  • A change or disturbance to your lifestyle (stress, travelling).
  • Some medicines, such as painkillers, anti-depressants, iron supplements.
  • Diseases of the colon, rectum or anal canal.

Treating constipation

In order to stimulate bowel function, we recommend:

  • Drinking sufficient liquids every day (1.5 to 2 litres of water per day), preferably unsweetened drinks such as tap water or mineral water, herbal or fruit teas.
  • Eat more fibre (fruits, vegetables, wholegrains).
  • Exercise regularly, every day if possible (even if it is just walking).
  • Go to the toilet as soon as you feel the need.

Laxatives can be used if required, for example if you suffer from severe abdominal pain or if you are constipated for more than three days. Thanks to the aforementioned tips and laxatives, you should experience relief from constipation within a few days.

If you think that your constipation may be a side effect of one of the medicines you are taking, discuss it with the doctor who prescribed your treatment to find out if it should be stopped or continued.

Irritable bowel syndrome, anal lesions and intestinal bleeding

Constipation may be linked to another problem. Treatment in these cases may differ as a result, even if the basic advice remains the same.

Constipation may be felt alongside symptoms which indicate what we call “irritable bowel syndrome”. This condition is not serious but may be a nuisance on an everyday basis. It includes chronic and recurring symptoms which are caused by a problem in the digestive system, but for which no anomaly can be detected through usual tests: constipation but also diarrhoea at times, abdominal discomfort, “bloated” stomach to note but a few.

In order to relieve symptoms, we recommend reducing intake of food items which have been identified as difficult to digest or tolerate: some vegetables and fruits, fruit juice, fizzy drinks and “diet” drinks which contain artificial sugar. The aim is to limit the intake of food which could “irritate” the intestine.

If this doesn’t help, contact your general practitioner to find out how to relieve your symptoms. If they are associated with stress, psychological treatment may be needed.

If you are diagnosed with anal lesions, treatment combining laxatives (to soften stool) and an anaesthetic around the anus (to relieve the pain) may be prescribed. We also recommend that you see your general practitioner to identify the cause of the anal lesion.

Finally, if you are diagnosed with intestinal bleeding, laxatives may be prescribed. However, in this case, it is crucial to have additional tests carried out so make an appointment as soon as possible with your general practitioner.

Treatments

If you need treatment, you will receive either a laxative, an anaesthetic gel or both… for laxatives, you may receive Macrogol or drops of sodium picosulfate. If you suffer from anal lesions, a pain relief gel with xylocaine will be prescribed.

Four key pieces of advice!

Even if certain situations require specific measures, the advice below applies to all types of constipation:

  1. Drink sufficient liquids every day (1.5 to 2 litres of water per day), preferably unsweetened drinks such as tap water or mineral water, herbal or fruit teas.
  2. Eat more fibre (fruits, vegetables, wholegrains).
  3. Exercise regularly, every day if possible (even if it is just walking).
  4. Go to the toilet as soon as you feel the need.

For further information

For further information on constipation and what you can do to stimulate your bowel function, you can download the Food and constipation brochure from the Swiss society for nutrition. The Planète santé website also offers a page dedicated to constipation where you can find useful advice.

For any unanswered questions, you should contact a health professional, such as your general practitioner.

 

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