Constipation can be a common problem, but many people find it embarrassing to discuss. Loss of appetite, poorly controlled pain and nausea can all lead to constipation. A lack of fibre (roughage) in your diet, low fluid intake and being less mobile can also contribute. Some medicines can cause constipation, particularly the painkillers morphine and codeine. If you’re taking regular painkillers, you may need a laxative to help prevent constipation. Everyone’s normal bowel pattern is different, but as a general guide you should let your doctor or nurse know if you’ve not had a bowel movement for three days, unless this is usual for you.
Signs of constipation include:
- Having less frequent bowel movements
- Your stools becoming harder
- Straining to pass motions
- A feeling of not having emptied your bowel but being unable to pass any more stool
- Your tummy becoming bloated or uncomfortable
Tips to help with constipation
- Try to have plenty of fibre in your diet. Good sources of fibre include wholegrain breakfast cereals, porridge, muesli, wholemeal bread and flour, brown rice, wholemeal pasta and fresh fruit and vegetables with their skins on.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Aim to drink at least two litres (3½ pints) of fluid a day.
- Gentle exercise will help keep your bowels moving.
- Natural remedies for constipation include apricots, prunes, prune juice and syrup of figs.
- Flaxseed (linseed) can help to ease constipation and soften stools. One teaspoon or dessertspoon of the seeds can be taken daily with a glass of water.
Diarrhoea may occur as a symptom of your illness or it may also occur due to infection. Some medicines or treatments can cause diarrhoea. Sometimes severe constipation can be mistaken for diarrhoea: when the bowel is blocked by constipation, liquid faeces pass around the solid faeces (sometimes called overflow), so it may seem as though you have diarrhoea.
Tips for coping with diarrhoea
- Cut down on your fibre intake from cereals, fruit and vegetables. Eat peeled and cooked fruit and vegetables instead of raw ones.
- Avoid milk and dairy products, such as cheese, until the diarrhoea has stopped.
- Drink plenty of fluids to replace the water lost with the diarrhoea but avoid alcohol and coffee. Also avoid fizzy drinks, which can cause wind and stomach cramps.
- Eat small, frequent meals made from light foods - white fish, chicken, eggs (well cooked), white bread, pasta and rice.
- Avoid highly spiced or fatty foods.
- Eat your meals slowly.
- If the diarrhoea continues for more than two days, tell your doctor. They can investigate the cause and prescribe anti-diarrhoea medicines for you.
- Antibiotics can kill off the helpful bacteria normally found in the bowel but eating live (probiotic) yoghurt can replace them. Live yoghurt can also help to replace the fluid lost by diarrhoea, but you should speak to your doctor or nurse to check this is appropriate for you.
- If you have ongoing problems with diarrhoea, knowing you may need to get to a toilet quickly can make going out a source of worry and embarrassment. The National Key Scheme (NKS), for people with continence problems, allows you to use around 9,000 locked public toilets in the UK. Radar or the Bladder and Bowel Foundation can tell you about the scheme.
When to call for help
- If your bowels have not opened for 2-3 days
- If there is any discomfort or pain in your abdomen
- If you are not sure what to do