You hear nature's call, and you want to answer, desperately, but your body won't respond–or when it does, your stools are hard, dry and difficult or painful to pass.

The advertising world would have us believe that daily elimination is the pinnacle of perfect health. Untrue, say doctors. Many of us have what doctors call ‘perceived constipation’–that is, we think we are constipated, but our bodies don't. People have varying body rhythms, and it is just as healthy for some people to go once every 3 days as it is for others to go 3 times a day. Being ‘regular’ is the key, and there are various remedies that will help.

What are the causes of constipation?

  • The most common reason for constipation is because the body is lacking in dietary fibre or water.
  • Another common cause is ignoring the ‘call to stool’ or being too busy to go, especially if you're rushing out of the house in the morning–better to get up 10 minutes earlier.
  • Constipation may also be due to lack of exercise, or health conditions such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, depression or irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Certain prescription or over-the-counter medications may be to blame as well, or even using laxatives too often.

Severe constipation

Although bothersome, constipation is usually not grave. However, it can sometimes signal a serious condition such as colorectal cancer or bowel obstruction. Tell your doctor if it lasts 2 weeks or more, or if you see blood in your stool, or if constipation is accompanied by fever, severe abdominal pain, or weight loss, or if constipation alternates with diarrhoea.

If you've recently started a new medication that seems to be causing constipation, you need to talk to your doctor. Antihistamines, diuretics, blood-pressure drugs, some tranquillisers, codeine or morphine-based pain-killers, calcium supplements, certain antidepressants and antacids that contain calcium or aluminium can all cause constipation.

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