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Constipation is when your stools become hard and you find it more difficult than usual, or even painful, to pass them when you go to the toilet. You may also have a feeling of being unable to completely empty your bowel.

Opening your bowels may be more difficult because your stools are hard, lumpy and dry, or because they are abnormally small or large. Constipation may be accompanied by feeling bloated or sick, losing your appetite, and aches or cramps in your abdomen.

We’re all different when it comes to bowel habits – some of us pass stools only every three or four days, whereas others may go more than once a day. Constipation is usually harmless so being constipated once in a while is quite common. So what can you do to get better?

  • Healthy diet - Increasing your daily fibre intake by eating a higher proportion of fruit, vegetables, seeds, pulses and cereals, or by taking soluble fibre in the form of oats, can help to alleviate symptoms and prevent symptoms from recurring.
  • Avoid dehydration and drink plenty of water.
  • Try to exercise more, which helps your bowels digest food.
  • Respond to your bowel’s natural pattern and do not delay going to the toilet when you feel the urge to go.
  • Simple painkillers such as paracetamol can help to relieve pain and there are many preparations are available over the counter to help you open your bowels. Speak to your pharmacist for advice.

When should I seek medical help?

  • You’ve been constipated or have a persistent feeling of not being able to empty your bowel completely that doesn’t go away within six weeks.
  • Your tummy becomes increasingly swollen, and/or you start vomiting, which could suggest that your bowels are blocked.
  • You’re over 50 and have never suffered from constipation before.
  • You think that a medication makes you constipated.
  • You notice blood in your stools, particularly if you don’t have any pain or discomfort around the opening of your back passage.
  • You’ve been losing weight for no apparent reason; you also feel tired all the time, ‘not quite right’, sweaty or feverish; or you find that these symptoms don’t go away within four to six weeks.

More information can be found on the NHS website: