Causes and symptoms

What causes constipation?

For many people with constipation the cause isn’t easily identified, but there are some recognised risk factors, including:

  • Lack of dietary fibre

  • Inadequate fluid intake or dehydration

  • Lack of mobility or not enough exercise

  • Certain medications (consult the corresponding medication’s Patient Information Leaflet if available). It’s important to talk to your doctor if you think your medication is causing side effects.

  • Certain medical conditions

  • Deliberately withholding or ignoring the urge to go to the toilet

  • Stress and changes to routine

  • For babies and toddlers, changes in diet and the transition to solid foods, or starting school (when they may have a change of exercise and eating routines)

Signs of constipation

Constipation can vary from occasional episodes – when symptoms can range from mild to very troublesome – through to ‘chronic’ (persistent) constipation. In any of these cases, there can be troublesome symptoms that impact quality of life.

Straining in at least one out of every four bowel movements as well as the passing of small dry stools less than three times per week can indicate constipation. Sufferers can also complain of bloating, pain, lethargy and generally feeling unwell.

Common constipation symptoms - checklist

  • Feeling bloated or windy

  • Fewer than three bowel movements a week

  • A sense of an incomplete bowel movement

  • Straining or suffering from pain when passing a stool

  • Hard, dry stools

  • Pain in abdomen or rectum

  • Generally feeling unwell

If any of these symptoms continue more than two weeks, see a healthcare professional.

If you find blood in a stool, lose weight unexpectedly, or experience vomiting, go to see your doctor immediately, as these could be signs of a more serious underlying condition.

Download this toilet diary to keep a record of your bowel movements to discuss with your doctor or pharmacist.