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Constipation cause & treatment advice

One of the most common digestive complaints, severe constipation affects more than one in 200 women in the UK.

While there is great variation between individuals, most cases of constipation result from too little fiber or dehydration. While symptoms vary between people, the most common symptoms of constipation include:

  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Fluctuations in bowel movements
  • Constant feeling of fullness
  • Headaches
  • Furred tongue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
Ironically, constipation can sometimes alternate with diarrhea - this is often a symptom of another condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

There are a variety of causes. In addition to lack of fibre and dehydration, other causes include:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Medications, including painkillers, antidepressants, and antacids
  • Excessive use of supplements such as calcium or iron
  • Pregnancy
  • Excessive consumption of tea or coffee
  • Dieting
  • Weak bowel muscles
  • Recent abdominal surgery
Treatment will depend upon the diagnosis, so it is essential that you consult your doctor. Options include:
  • Increased intake of fibre - ideally 20-30g a day
  • Increased fluid intake (water)
  • More exercise
Your doctor may suggest a short course of drugs (stool softeners and laxatives), but these are only a temporary measure and should always be accompanied by changes in lifestyle to ensure that the symptoms don't return.