Constipation generally refers to not passing stools (faeces) on a regular basis. It can also refer to having to strain to pass stools and also to not being able to empty the faeces built up in the bowels.
Constipation is common amongst many age groups from babies to older adults, with many experiencing short infrequent bouts of constipation, which disappear quickly and has no lingering health issues.
Whilst for the majority, constipation is merely a mild inconvenience, for some, constipation, can be more frequent, especially in the older population, where medication may be required to overcome the symptoms. This type of constipation is known as Chronic Constipation.
The effects of struggling to attain regular bowel movements, may impact the quality of life, especially in those who condition is chronic. As there may be an increase in abdominal pain, increased pain from trying to pass hardened stools and general discomfort often caused by bloatiness.
There are two elements to constipation relief, firstly dealing with getting the impacted (stuck) faeces out of the body using medications and secondly improvements to reduce the frequency of constipation.
To get impacted faeces out of the body several medications can be used, these generally involve different types of laxatives, ranging from bulk forming laxatives to osmotic laxatives and stimulant laxatives.
Bulk forming laxatives work on the principle of trying to stop the faeces from drying out by assisting in aiding water retention. By doing this, the faeces can become softer and thus help improve their movement instead of drying out and becoming difficult to move along.
Common bulking solutions include ingredients primarily based on Isphagula husk, Methylcellulose or Sterculia and these are available in various branded forms from various pharmacy and drug outlets.
It is advised to drink plenty of water to aid the effect of bulk forming solutions and preferably not to use them before going to bed. It can take a few days for the effects to work in many cases, with some side effects of bloating and wind being common.
Osmotic laxatives work by increasing the fluid drawn into the bowels, as these laxatives sort of act as water carriers, which don't end up being totally absorbed by the digestive tract.
This ensures the bowels have some water which can stop the faeces from drying out, thereby keeping the motion along the tract working.
Common osmotic laxatives include Lactulose and Macrogols, which like bulk forming laxatives, require the user to drink plenty of water for effectiveness. These laxatives can take a few days to work, in some cases they can work within several hours. Again like the other laxatives, these can cause bloatiness and wind.
Stimulant laxatives work on the principle of stimulating the muscles in digestive tract to promote the movement of faeces. Common stimulant laxatives include those with Senna, bisacodyl and sodium Picosulphate as ingredients.
These types of laxatives are not generally advised for long term use and are generally prescribed by a doctor (physician).
These types of laxatives tend to work quicker than others types, usually within hours.
Whilst the prevalence of constipation can increase with age, lifestyle factors are also thought to increase the likelihood of constipation.
Excluding or reducing the intake of certain food types can increase the hardening of faeces during transit and disrupting regular bowel movements.
Foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains can aid digestion by providing bulking up and water retention, to aid movement. Most of these food types contain fibre which helps digestion.
In an age of fast food, the amount of fibre ingested has rapidly declined, as many foods eaten today are processed and contain very little nutrition.
Fibre is key in maintain regular movement and many people miss out on eating it.
A lack of exercise can reduce the effectiveness of the digestive process, causing constipation. This may be down to the health benefits of exercise and it's stress reducing abilities.
Many people do not drink enough water on a daily basis, leading to the body becoming dehydrated. As a result, the body may take action in preserving water intake for essential services, such as for those organs which keep us alive.
This in turn may reduce the amount of water entering the digestive tract, in turn causing faecal matter to become drier, and impeding it's movement.
It is essential therefore to maintain a hydrated state and this is done by drinking plenty of water as recommended by government health guidelines.