Symptoms of constipation 

When you are constipated, passing stools becomes more difficult and less frequent than usual.

Normal bowel habits vary from person to person. Some adults normally go to the toilet more than once a day, whereas it's normal for others to go only every three or four days. Some infants pass stools several times a day, while others pass stools only a few times a week.

A reduction in the number of times you or your child would normally pass stools could be a sign of constipation.

You may also have to strain while passing stools and you may feel unable to completely empty your bowel. Your stools may appear dry, hard and lumpy, as well as abnormally large or small.

Other symptoms you may experience if you have constipation include:

  • stomach aches and cramps
  • feeling bloated
  • feeling sick
  • loss of appetite

Constipation in children

As well as infrequent or irregular bowel movements, a child with constipation may also have any of the following symptoms:

  • loss of appetite
  • a lack of energy
  • being irritable, angry or unhappy
  • foul-smelling wind and stools
  • stomach pain and discomfort
  • soiling their clothes
  • generally feeling unwell

When to see your GP

You may be able to help treat constipation yourself by making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle (see treating constipation for more information about this), but you should see your GP if these changes do not help.

You should also see your GP for advice if you notice any rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss or persistent tiredness.

Take your child to see a GP if you think they may have constipation, as treatment with medications called laxatives is often recommended for children alongside diet and lifestyle changes.

Page last reviewed: 08/01/2014

Next review due: 08/01/2016