Treatment options for constipation 

Treatment
Pros
Cons

Lifestyle advice

Diet

Increase your daily intake of fibre with fruit, vegetables and cereals, and add bulking agents, such as wheat bran, to your diet

  • There are many other health benefits from adopting a healthier diet
  • No need for medication, which can cause side effects
  • May offer a long-term solution
  • May take time before symptoms are relieved, particularly with chronic constipation
  • May not help treat an underlying condition
Exercise

If possible, increase the amount of exercise you do with a daily walk or run to help stimulate your bowels

  • There are many other health benefits from regular exercise
  • No need for medication, which can cause side effects
  • May not always be an effective treatment
  • May not be possible for everyone
  • May not help treat an underlying condition
Establish a routine

Identify a place and a time of the day when you can spend time in the toilet, and don't delay when you feel the urge to go

  • May help relieve symptoms of constipation
  • May help young children avoid psychological effects of constipation
  • No need for medication with associated side effects
  • May not be an effective treatment for some people
  • May not help treat an underlying condition

Laxatives

Bulk-forming laxatives

Laxatives are a type of medicine that help you to pass stools. Bulk-forming laxatives work by helping your stools to retain fluid, making them softer and easier to pass

  • May help relieve symptoms of constipation
  • May be several days before you feel the effects
  • Short-term side effects can include bloating and flatulence
  • Need to take laxatives for a long time if constipation is caused by medication or an underlying condition
  • Overusing laxatives can cause side effects including diarrhoea, dehydration and salt and mineral imbalances
Osmotic laxatives

Osmotic laxatives increase the amount of fluid in your bowels. This helps to stimulate your body to pass stools and also softens stools, making them easier to pass

  • May help relieve the symptoms of constipation
  • May help to treat constipation if bulk-forming laxatives don't work
  • May be used to treat faecal impaction
  • May be several days before you feel the effects
  • Short-term side effects can include abdominal pain, bloating and flatulence (particularly if you eat a lot of fruit) 
  • Need to take laxatives for a long time if constipation is caused by medication or an underlying condition
  • Overusing laxatives can cause side effects, including diarrhoea, dehydration and salt and mineral imbalances 
Stimulant laxatives

Stimulant laxatives stimulate the muscles that line your digestive tract, helping them to move stools and waste products along your large intestine to your anus

  • May help treat constipation if bulk-forming and osmotic laxatives don't work
  • Used on a short-term basis
  • Usually start to work within 6-12 hours
  • May be used to treat faecal impaction
  • Short-term side effects can include abdominal pain
  • If taken for a long time, may cause a "weakened" or "lazy" bowel
  • Overusing laxatives can cause side effects, including diarrhoea, dehydration and salt and mineral imbalances
  • Some stimulant laxatives aren't suitable during the later stages of pregnancy

Rectal treatments

Suppository

A type of laxative that can target the problem in the rectum. It's inserted into your anus, gradually dissolves and is absorbed into your bloodstream

  • May help treat severe constipation and faecal impaction
  • May not be suitable for young children
  • Some people may find a suppository embarrassing or uncomfortable
  • Can cause a slight leak as it dissolves and some types may stain – many people prefer to use them before they go to bed
  • Not a long-term solution for chronic constipation (unless the problem is recurring impaction in the rectum) 
Mini-enema

Medicine in fluid form is injected through your anus and into your large bowel to help clear it out

  • May help treat severe constipation and faecal impaction
  • May not be suitable for young children
  • Some people may find a mini-enema embarrassing or uncomfortable
  • Not a long-term solution for chronic constipation (unless the problem is recurring impaction in the rectum)