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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Overview of constipation

constipatedConstipation is a very common problem. It either means passing hard or painful bowel motions (poos) or going to the toilet less often than usual to empty your bowels.

Different people need to pass a bowel motion (have a poo) at different times. For some people it's quite normal to have a poo three times a day, while for other people it's quite normal to go just three times a week. If you need to have a poo more or less often than this, there may be something wrong.

Causes of constipation

Constipation can be caused by several different things. They include:


It's uncommon for constipation to be due to bowel cancer but a bowel blockage (when you do not poo for several days and have a painful swollen tummy) may be due to this. This is different to constipation. If this happens, it's important to see your doctor straight away as you may need to go to hospital for treatment.

Diagnosing constipation

It's important that you see your doctor if you experience any of the following:

Your doctor is likely to ask you questions about how often you go to the toilet, what you eat and how active you are. They may ask you to complete a bowel diary. A bowel diary records information such as how urgent your need to go to the toilet is, the time and effort needed and any accidents you have.

They may also examine you. This examination may include a check of your abdomen (tummy) to feel that your organs are normal. It may also include a check for faecal impaction, which means hard, dry poo collected in your rectum (bottom).

If your doctor thinks you may have faecal impaction, they may do a rectal examination. This involves putting one finger gently into your anus (bottom) to feel for hard poo.

Your doctor may also check you do not have any other disease or condition that might be causing your constipation. You might need a blood test.

Treating constipation

Eating and lifestyle measures can help you get over constipation and stop it from happening again. If these changes do not help, your doctor may prescribe a laxative to help your bowels move.

On the next page: Self-care for constipation

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2021.


Page reference: 402693

Review key: HICSA-13804