If you're constipated, you may find that you have trouble passing stools or that your bowel movements are less frequent or tougher than they should be. Most people will experience constipation at some point, and although it's usually nothing serious it can be uncomfortable and you'll feel much better once it's passed. That's why it is important to understand the potential causes of constipation.
On average, the length of time between bowel movement should vary from person to person. However, if your bowel movement comes less regularly than every three days, you might start to feel uncomfortable. After three days, your stools will get harder and be more difficult to pass too.
The causes of constipation can vary from person to person and may also differ between adults and children.
The most common causes of constipation in adults can include:
1. Not eating enough fibre
Food such as fruit, vegetables and cereals are high in fibre which is great for bowel movement. Foods that are rich in animal fat can also be good for your bowel. There are two key types of fibre, soluble and insoluble. Fibre that is soluble retains more water in your stool making it softer and therefore easier to pass. Insoluble fibre is also helpful as it quickens the passage of your faeces through your intestines and prevents the bloated feeling that can come with constipation.
2. Not drinking enough fluids
Not drinking enough water can cause your stools to become firmer and more solid which can make them harder to pass. Fluid is genuinely absorbed in the intestine, but people who don't drink enough water may not get enough water into their intestines to keep their stools soft, making them hard and comfortable.
Other potential causes of constipation in adults can include:
- Not exercising enough
- Often ignoring the urge to go to the toilet
- Changes to your diet
- Mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression
- Medication side effects
- Pregnancy (and up the first 6 weeks after childbirth)
- Underlying medical conditions such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
Irritable Bowel Syndrome often results from regular and uncontrolled changes in bowel function. This can sometimes lead to:
- Abdominal cramping or pain
- Feeling bloated
- Alternating constipation and diarrhoea.
The causes of constipation in children - particularly babies and toddlers can also vary and sometimes there is no obvious cause at all.
In very young children, constipation is most likely to occur when: - You first switch to formula or processed foods - You start potty training - Your child first starts school (the stress and nerves can often cause constipation, as well as the fear of going to the toilet in a new place)
The most common causes tend to be very similar to those in adults and can include:
1. Not eating enough fibre (fruits, vegetables and cereals)
2. Not drinking enough fluids
3. Overfeeding (this includes giving babies too much milk)
4. Fear, anxiety or nervousness about using the toilet – at home or at school
5. Poor potty training –(feeling pressured or being regularly interrupted can affect a child and stop them wanting to go to the toilet)
In very rare cases, constipation in children may be caused by an underlying medical condition.
If you are struggling with constipation, try out our home doctor service for helpful advice on maintaining good nutrition and bowel movement.