This content has been reviewed and approved for quality and accuracy by James O'Loan (GPhC: 2084549)
Don’t you just hate blockages?
Whether it is in the nose and you struggle to breathe through it and smell, or whether it is a traffic jam caused by an accident that leaves you stuck on the road, they are a pain.
The same can be said about constipation, a simple blockage in the digestive system that can cause a lot of problems.
To find the solution to constipation, first, you need to know the cause.
What is constipation?
You might know what constipation feels like but it isn’t what you might expect it to be.
Constipation itself isn’t a disease or an illness. It is, in fact, a symptom.
It can be a symptom of a number of different conditions that vary in severity.
Conditions that constipation is related to are categorised in three ways:
- Congenital (A birth defect)
The most common of the three is primary, which is non-life threatening conditions.
These conditions are usually separated from the likes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome due to a lack of abdominal pain.
Primary constipation is usually long-term and caused by conditions such as slow-moving bowel movements, failure of anal relaxation, or other factors such as reduced physical exercise, or insufficient fibre or fluids.
Secondary constipation is constipation brought on as a side effect of taking medication as well as disorders such as hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, or cystic fibrosis.
Congenital constipation is caused by conditions from birth. It is uncommon, with Hirschsprung’s disease (HD) being the most common congenital condition that causes constipation.
Constipation can be caused by voluntarily withholding. This can be for a number of reasons.
Fear of pain or public toilets can cause constipation, as well as laziness.
Constipation itself is seen as the condition when bowel movements don’t occur properly.
This is true, but there are other issues relating to constipation. These are:
- Straining as a result of the bowel movements
- Long time needed for a bowel movement
- Hard and dry stools
- Pain with bowel movements unrelated to straining
- Abdominal pain
- The feeling of an incomplete bowel movement
Knowing what type of constipation that you have
In order to get the best treatment for your constipation, you need to know what type of constipation you have.
There are two types of constipation, mild and severe. The issues caused will be the same, just the impact of them will differ.
The other way to know what type of constipation you have will involve looking into the abyss.
Well, actually it’s your toilet but they both lead to a dark place.
Knowing what to look for will mean that you need to go all Gillian McKeith.
With mild constipation, your poo will likely to be lumpy and sausage-like.
With severe constipation, the stools will be separate, hard lumps.
This bit of information will help you find the right treatment for you.
How to get rid of constipation
Getting rid of constipation can be done a number of ways.
The effectiveness of each will depend on the type of condition and the cause of constipation.
When you think of constipation treatments, your mind immediately comes to one thing, laxatives.
The word laxative brings up an image of someone pouring some sachet into someone else’s drink and waiting for fireworks.
It is, however, a serious form of treatment that should only be used when it is completely necessary.
Any laxative should also only be used for a short period of time.
This is because overusing a laxative can cause long-term damage to the bowel.
There are a number of different types of laxative that are intended to be used in different circumstances.
Types of laxative
There are different types of laxative that help to relieve constipation in different ways.
The four main types of laxative are:
- Bulk-forming laxative – This type of laxative works like fibre does, it increases the bulk of your poo helps it to retain fluid. This helps the fluid move the poo out of the system. Active ingredients for this type of laxative include ispaghula husk and methylcellulose.
- Osmotic laxative – This laxative helps to soften the poo which enables it to pass through easier. Active ingredients for this type of laxative include lactulose and polyethylene glycol.
- Stimulant laxative – A stimulant laxative works by stimulating the nerves in the bowel which helps to speed up its movement. Active ingredients in this laxative include bisacodyl, senna and sodium picosulfate.
- Stool softener laxative – Like the bulk-forming laxative, this one helps to move the bowel by increasing the fluid. Active ingredients for this laxative include arachis oil and docusate sodium. One thing to note about stool softeners is that they are the weakest out of all of the laxative types so only use them for temporary or mild constipation.
The time it takes for a laxative to work depends on the laxative itself.
Generally speaking, it will take about 12 hours for a laxative to start to work.
As for which type of laxative to use, there is no 100% factual recommendation.
It all depends on how bad the constipation is and how it manifests itself.
You should probably start with a bulk-forming laxative and if that doesn’t work, adding or replacing it with an osmotic laxative.
If you are still suffering from constipation after that then speaking to your GP is the best course of action.
In many cases, that is what you should do first, especially if you are unsure as to what treatment to use.
Forms of laxative
Laxatives come in a number of forms.
From powder to tablets, to suppositories, and syrups.
Each form will offer a number of different types of laxative that are suitable for different people.
Powder laxatives, often in sachet form, are an easy form of laxative to consume.
They are normally flavoured and when added to water, form an effective constipation treatment.
Sachets of laxative often include fibre, so they are commonly bulk-forming laxatives.
Laxative tablets often contain natural ingredients to help bowel movement.
Tablets are also often intended for overnight relief of constipation.
Some of the most popular brands in laxatives produce tablets. One such example is Senokot.
Syrups for use as a laxative are suitable for adults and children and are taken like many other types of medicine.
Perhaps not as common as other forms of laxative, they still provide a high level of relief from constipation.
Last, but certainly not least, is suppositories.
A suppository goes straight to the source of constipation, literally.
A suppository is only meant to be used for those who suffer severe constipation and other forms of treatment do not work.
They are, however, much faster at work.
A suppository only takes about an hour to get working, where it can be hours and even days for other forms of laxative.
Overdosing on laxatives
It shouldn’t need to be said, but there is risk involved if you decide to use more laxative than what is recommended, either by the manufacturer or a medical professional.
Going against this advice can lead to serious consequences.
At best, you will get cramps and/or go to the other end of the bowel movement spectrum, diarrhoea.
More serious issues can include collapsing, painful bowel movements or urinating, and even death.
You might think that took a bleak turn quickly, but you have to remember that laxatives contain chemicals like most medications, and like those medications, these chemicals can kill you if you take too much.
Aside from using laxatives, there are other ways to try and help clear constipation out of your system.
These methods are less likely to produce side effects and can bring other benefits too.
Changing what you eat
What you eat is a common reason why someone may get constipation.
Constipation can also be caused by what you don’t eat.
Fibre is one way to help keep the movements in your bowel going without a blockage and many different foods contain it.
Fibre is commonly found in wholemeal bread, fruit, and vegetables.
Fruit and vegetables that have fibre include:
Drinking more fluids
Taking on board more fluids, in particular, water will help tackle constipation.
This is because the water will help to keep your digestive fluid keep fluids, which help when it comes to bowel movements.
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of constipation.
Exercising can help treat constipation.
This is because exercise will help decrease the time it takes for food to move through the large intestine.
This also accelerates breathing and your heart rate.
These two things increase the rate of contraction in the muscles in the intestine.
This helps to make the poo move quicker.
What is the best constipation remedy?
This is a difficult question to answer because there is no single best option out there.
The different types of laxative treatment and the different forms will all have their pros and cons.
It is recommended that you begin with a fibre-based solution first to see if that works to help clear constipation.
If it doesn’t, then move on to a different type of laxative or go to a doctor and let them help you find the best remedy for you.
What is the best treatment for constipation in children?
So far, we have only really been looking at constipation solutions for adults.
For children, it’s a different ball game.
The simple reason for this is that a child’s digestive system has not fully developed yet so using the same treatments could cause serious damage.
Treatments for children will be specially formulated for children, but type and form wise will not differ too much than the laxative treatments for adults.
There are ways that children can find relief from constipation without using laxatives as well, including eating healthier and exercising more.
In smaller children and babies, this can be more difficult.
With babies, breastfeeding babies should not be having constipation but if they do, give them water between feeds.
For older infants, one thing to do is encourage them.
Often, the child will be withholding the poo because of nerves, or unrest and the last thing that they need is more stress.
Encourage them that going on the potty is a natural part of life.
Also, make sure to regularly place the child on the potty and praise them regardless if they poo or not.
This is especially important for small boys, who may no longer sit on the potty once they start to urinate standing up.
What is the best treatment for constipation in dogs?
If you have a dog, the last thing you want to see is it in pain and looking and feeling uncomfortable.
A dog doing its business is not an unusual site for anyone, they can do it anywhere and at any time, much to the annoyance of its owner.
If your dog does have constipation, then there are a few ways you can treat it.
You can change the dog food that you give to your dog.
Find one that has a higher amount of fibre in it.
You can get a special laxative solution designed for dogs.
Or you can give your dog other foods.
This includes milk, a drink that would otherwise give a dog diarrhoea can treat a constipated dog.
Another good thing to give your dog is pieces of pumpkin.
Pumpkin contains a lot of water and fibre, so giving it to a dog can help the flow of the bowel.
Of course, you could give your dog more exercise by taking it for more walks.
The bottom of it
Constipation is an unpleasant thing to deal with.
It can cause pain, discomfort, and be a symptom of a bigger problem.
Identifying the type of constipation and the treatment needed will go some way in helping you get your bowel movements back to normal.