Digestive health

Find out how to beat common digestive problems like bloating and indigestion

Constipation is a common condition that affects people of all ages. It can mean that you're not passing stools regularly or you're unable to completely empty your bowel.

Constipation can also cause your stools to be hard and lumpy, as well as unusually large or small.

The severity of constipation varies from person to person. Many people only experience constipation for a short time, but for others, constipation can be a long-term (chronic) condition that causes significant pain and discomfort and affects quality of life.

Read more about the symptoms of constipation.

What causes constipation?

It's often difficult to identify the exact cause of constipation. However, there are a number of things that contribute to the condition, including:

  • not eating enough fibre, such as fruit, vegetables and cereals
  • a change in your routine or lifestyle, such as a change in your eating habits
  • ignoring the urge to pass stools
  • side effects of certain medications
  • not drinking enough fluids
  • anxiety or depression

In children, poor diet, fear about using the toilet and problems toilet training can all lead to constipation.

Read more about the causes of constipation.

Who is affected

Constipation can occur in babies, children and adults. It's estimated that around one in every seven adults and up to one in every three children in the UK has constipation at any one time.

The condition affects twice as many women as men and is also more common in older adults and during pregnancy.

Should I see my GP?

You may be able to treat constipation yourself by making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle (see below). If these changes do not help and the problem continues, see your GP.

You should also speak to your GP if you suspect your child might be constipated.

Read more about diagnosing constipation.

How constipation is treated

In many cases, diet and lifestyle changes are recommended as the first treatment for constipation.

These include gradually increasing your daily intake of fibre, making sure you drink plenty of fluids, and trying to get more exercise.

If these aren't effective, your GP may prescribe an oral laxative medication that can help you empty your bowels.

Treatment for constipation is effective, although in some cases it can take several months before a regular bowel pattern is re-established.

Read more about treating constipation.

Preventing constipation

Making the diet and lifestyle changes mentioned above can also help reduce your risk of developing constipation in the first place.

It may also help to give yourself enough time and privacy to pass stools comfortably and you should try not to ignore the urge to go to the toilet.

Read more about preventing constipation.


For most people constipation rarely causes any complications, but people with long-term constipation can develop:

Read more about complications of constipation.

Page last reviewed: 08/01/2014

Next review due: 08/01/2016


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The 18 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Andy _P said on 11 November 2014

I have suffered with constipation for a few days after taking pain killers following an operation. I like a few others have tried triplearatings method and after a few minutes I was able to get relief without a lot of discomfort. I just wanted to say thank you for posting your solution to a very common problem on here I hope it will help others as it has for me.

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Andy _P said on 11 November 2014

Many thanks to triplearating I have been suffering for a few days with constipation after taking pain killers for a recent operation. I read this tonight and decided to give it a go straight away after reading the reviews and it worked within a few minutes. Thanks for sharing this on this site it really did make a difference.

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Volvulus said on 08 November 2014

There are other causes of constipation eg advanced Parkinson's Disease where the advice given here is totally wrong. Such causes should be signposted very clearly to avoid making conditions worse.

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stevefisher said on 31 October 2014

Another one here wishing to thank triplearating for the great advice - I had been in varying levels of discomfort for almost 24 hours, but your instructions saw an end to that very quickly. Thank you very much - I normally swear blind against surfing the net for stuff like this, but thank goodness I did this time!

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kmc 2510 said on 30 October 2014

I felt I really must say thank you to triplerating for his usefull comments,my husband been suffering for 2 days & I look a solution today.I described the rachet action him which he did straight away for complete sucess. I will pass this on to many. I was really contemplating a trip to A & E later this evening

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Chris_H said on 08 October 2014

I have never suffered with severe constipation before. However, following about of flu and not eating for five days, when I did start to eat again I was really suffering. I was in quite bad pain and seemed to have a stool stuck in a very uncomfortable position which I just could not move. After several hours of this and wondering what to do, I read triplearating's comment below. I tried their method and within a couple of minutes it worked and out it came. What a relief. So, many thanks to triplearating for the tip.

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Snow Cat said on 19 May 2014

Sometimes bars of chocolate, black bananas, lots of water, and eating veg just don’t work. It can seem like you are eating healthily yet be unable to go to the toilet. A hot meal can work. Other things which can work are products which contain a high proportion of fat/oils, yoghurt, and citrus fruits (not together). Abstaining from food can sometimes work. One of the best things is to have something exciting happening in your life, such as an aeroplane flight or going on holiday.

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Lilyt said on 08 May 2014

I have had sluggish bowels since childhood. Going three times a week is normal for me. I eat a healthy diet plenty of fruit and veg and hardly any processed food although I do eat some sugary food. At the weekend I have a cooked breakfast and within minutes I am at the loo. It's almost as if eating a fatty breakfast each day would keep me regular but I know it would be unhealthy to eat them daily.

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Snow Cat said on 18 March 2014

Something which seems to work well to aid symptoms of constipation is to eat a large family sized bar of Cadbury’s dairy milk chocolate in one go without having anything to drink, or to eat two 120gram sized ones one after the other. Alternatives are something hot to stimulate the bowels, such as a large bowlful of hot soup or hot porridge oats. The heat from the food can stimulate the bowels, and this can be helpful during cold weather. Apples, oranges, grapes, and overripe fruit, such as black bananas, might also be of assistance.
If possible try to stay away from cigarette smoke as this can easily make a person constipated. Also check in case you might be a passive smoker without realising it, as can be the case in many city and urban areas.

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Treacle7 said on 12 February 2014

Hi corriesammi I think you shld go bk to yr GP and ask for lactulose. Give the paed malvacol with some milk or water, followed by the lactulose, these work in different ways, to make yr child finally poo. My little ones all had adult sized poos so very very painful, then they held on to the poo rather than go, because it was so painful. This remedy really worked for all of them ! Hope u get a good result .plenty of fruit and water . This is what happens, they get scared to go and things get worse, so go to GP and tell him that's what u wud like to try. Good luck, P.s stay with her to make sure she is drinking it etc, kid r kids!

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corriesammi said on 10 February 2014

My daugther has suffered from chronic consipation since she was 2 years old,she is now 7 and this is not getting any better. the doctor keeps fobbing her of with movical!! whick to me i'a m not happy about due to the fact i don't think it is working! she is off school constantly with this and is getting to the stage where she has started lying about doing an accident and is getting really embarresed.It is becoming a big part of her life plus mine as iam the one who has to help her clean herself and changed her... does anyone have any advice please xx

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Staggie90 said on 08 September 2013

Our family have a history of food intolerances, most particularly wheat, gluten and dairy. It seems to be a trait calongside constipation in our family.
We have discovered peanuts/peanut butter keeps everyone moving regularly.
If your constipated really bad try eating a pack (if your not allergic) and wait maybe an hour. If its not worked then a GP can prescribe you something like lactulose (which u can't have if your intollerant to milk or lactose) or maybe movicol.

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triplearating said on 29 June 2013

Most advice regarding constipation is on how to prevent it, which is very good, of course, but what about when we are sitting there on the toilet desperate for relief? All the talk of fibre, liquids and exercise doesn't help. I have developed a method which works for me and for other people I have told about it. If you find that you are straining on the toilet, please try it, and if it works for you, please leave a comment to let others know that it works.

If you feel that there is faeces there but it won't come out, just sit up straight then gradually lean forward and as you do so push gently. Keep pushing and sit up straight. Then relax. You will find that the faeces has moved down a little bit. After a few seconds, repeat the action - lean forward, pushing gently. Don't relax while you are leaning forward, as the faeces tends to slip back if you do. Keep pushing until you sit up straight again. It is like a ratchet effect. The faeces moves in only one direction. You will feel the faeces stretching your bottom. Just relax until you are ready to lean and push again. Keep doing this until the faeces comes out.

This method allows you to defecate reasonably comfortably without having to strain. It might take a few minutes to get a result but you won't be bursting any blood vessesl or crying in pain and frustration while you're doing it.

Please give it a try. It's very simple but very effective. I can't understand why doctors don't recommend it to people. I hope it helps you.

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kerry1981 said on 22 February 2013

my daughter age 7 sat on the loo for 40 mins crying in pain because her stool was big rock hard and stuck , i felt useless and didnt know what to do, is there anything i can do To help her if this happens again.
I know a change,of diet is on order and it will be , but kids are kids and i cnt force feed her. x

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Lifley said on 25 June 2011

I occasionally suffer from mild constipation. If the change in diet mentioned here does not help I simply insert a finger into my vagina and push out any stubborn remainder. My GP mentioned this was possible when he told me he would not undertake a rectal exam as he felt a stool during my regular gyno exam.

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VMan said on 08 February 2011

Contrary to the doctor's advice... eating a lot of fibre if you're constipated is not a good idea. I once ended up in hospital with constipation because of the severe cramps in my stomach after eating a lot of high fibre food. I find the best thing to do is to keep a healthy and balanced diet and drink fluids (especially coffee is good for me), but to cut down your food intake significantly (you tend to lose your appetite anyway) until the bowels get back into rhythm, then start eating normally again.,

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flop said on 08 January 2011

I also drink a hot drink before bed to help my digestion but would not take senna to treat my chronic constipation. This is because senna is best used in low doses, to treat sporadic, mild constipation. It is not suited to treat chronic constipation. One of the side effects with extended use is lazy bowel syndrome, a condition where one becomes unable to move their bowels without chemical stimulation.

Safer gastrointestinal herbs such as ginger root, peppermint and others, make wonderful tea.

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hermy said on 15 March 2010

I get a bit of constipation sometimes and find drinking hot tea just before bedtime significantly helps my digestive system and I feel better in the morning, too. In my experience the most effective one has been the Senna Leaves tea. But you have got to be very careful not to drink too much of it as it is very, very strong.

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