Constipation is a prevalent health concern, particularly among the elderly, impacting roughly one-third of individuals over 60. This uncomfortable condition is characterised by infrequent bowel movements, difficulty passing stools, and the production of hard, dry stools. Constipation is generally a temporary and treatable condition, but it can be an unpleasant and sometimes distressing experience.

In this guide, we’ll delve into the various causes of constipation, its symptoms, and potential treatments. We’ll also provide some practical tips to prevent this common digestive issue.

Understanding Constipation

Constipation is a health issue that affects the digestive system, specifically the colon or large intestine. Individuals suffering from constipation may experience infrequent bowel movements, typically fewer than three times a week. The stools may be hard, dry, and challenging to pass. Some individuals may also feel that they cannot fully empty their bowels.

Symptoms of Constipation

The symptoms of constipation can vary from person to person. Some individuals may feel discomfort, while others may experience pain. Key symptoms of constipation include:

  • Fewer than three bowel movements per week
  • Difficulty or straining during bowel movements
  • Passing lumpy or hard stools
  • A sensation of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement
  • A feeling of blockage in the rectum

If you’re experiencing these symptoms frequently, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to identify the cause and determine a suitable treatment plan.

The Causes of Constipation

Several factors can contribute to constipation. These include dietary habits, physical activity levels, medication use, and certain medical conditions.

Diet and Fluid Intake

A diet low in fibre can lead to constipation. Fibre helps to bulk up the stools, making them softer and easier to pass. Consuming high-fat, low-fibre foods such as meats, dairy products, and processed foods can result in harder, drier stools that are difficult to pass.

Moreover, insufficient fluid intake can exacerbate constipation. Fluids, especially water, help to soften the stool and facilitate its movement through the colon.

Physical Activity

A sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to constipation. Regular physical activity aids the movement of food through the digestive system and reduces the time it takes for stools to pass through the colon.

Medication Use

Certain medications can lead to constipation. These include some antacids, antidepressants, antihistamines, painkillers, and blood pressure medications. Additionally, certain dietary supplements, such as iron, can cause constipation.

Medical Conditions

Various medical conditions can cause constipation. These include neurological disorders like stroke and Parkinson’s disease, metabolic and endocrine conditions like diabetes, and gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.

Changes in Routine

Changes in daily routine, such as travelling or a change in diet, can lead to temporary constipation. This is often due to disruptions in the usual diet and physical activity patterns.

Diagnosing Constipation

If you’re experiencing frequent symptoms of constipation, it’s essential to seek medical advice. Your healthcare provider will likely start with a medical history and a physical examination. This may include a digital rectal examination, where the doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to assess the muscle tone and detect any abnormalities.

Depending on the severity and duration of the symptoms, further diagnostic tests may be recommended. These could include abdominal X-rays, a lower gastrointestinal series, colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, colorectal transit study, or anorectal function tests.

Treating Constipation

Most cases of constipation can be treated through dietary and lifestyle modifications:

Dietary Changes

Increasing the intake of high-fibre foods can help to alleviate constipation. Foods rich in fibre include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Additionally, limiting the consumption of low-fibre foods like meats, dairy products, and processed foods can be beneficial.

Adequate Hydration

Staying well-hydrated is crucial in preventing and treating constipation. Drinking plenty of water and other fluids can help to soften the stool, making it easier to pass.

Regular Exercise

Engaging in regular physical activity can stimulate the muscles in the intestines, aiding the passage of stools through the colon.

In some cases, over-the-counter laxatives, including fibre supplements and stool softeners, may be recommended by healthcare providers.

Complications of Constipation

While constipation is usually not serious, it can sometimes lead to complications. These include haemorrhoids, anal fissures, rectal prolapse, and faecal impaction. If you’re experiencing severe symptoms or complications from constipation, it’s crucial to seek medical attention.


Although constipation is a common health issue, it’s usually treatable with lifestyle and dietary changes. If you’re frequently experiencing symptoms of constipation, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the cause and appropriate treatment. By understanding the causes and treatments of constipation, you can take proactive steps to maintain a healthy digestive system and overall well-being.

Remember, while constipation can be uncomfortable and sometimes worrying, it’s usually temporary and treatable. So, don’t hesitate to seek help if you’re concerned about constipation.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional before undergoing any medical procedure or making significant changes to your diet or lifestyle.