Healthy bowel function is different for everyone – some people empty their bowels 3 times a day and others only 3 times per week. Constipation is when you use your bowels less often than normal or when it becomes difficult to pass a stool. It is a myth that everyone must use their bowels every day to be normal. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial in managing constipation.

Constipation is a very common problem that I deal with every day at the pharmacy. In some instances it is so severe that people opt for surgery to remove part of their bowel. However a study has shown that the complications from surgery may actually outweigh the benefits… almost 43% of patients had complications before leaving hospital and almost 29% were readmitted within 30 days of their surgery. This is a major cost to the health care system and does not show an improvement in quality of life.

Although patients often have more frequent stools after surgery they still require ongoing care indicating that surgery may not be the answer. This reinforces the importance of effectively managing constipation early. I find my customers often think a quick fix laxative is all they need however they usually require long-term lifestyle changes to keep their symptoms under control.

To manage constipation effectively it is important to:
·      Increase water intake – dehydration is a common cause.
·      Increase fibre in the diet especially from fruit and vegetables – these foods have a high water and fibre content.
·      Exercise helps to keep the abdominal muscles toned and being inactive may slow down the movement of the bowel.
·      Use the toilet when you get the urge – repeatedly delaying your bowel motions can cause damage to the nerves and lead          to a lazy bowel.
·      Talk to your pharmacist or doctor about any medical conditions or medications you take as some may cause constipation.
·      You may initially require a laxative to get some relief – it is important to talk to your pharmacist as there are different                 types of laxatives that work in different ways. Some work faster than others and some can be habit forming if taken for              too long.
·      Be careful when using fibre supplements – they swell with water to make the stool softer but without sufficient water               will cause further constipation (a common mistake).
·      When using the toilet, it may also help if you put your feet up on a foot-stool and raise your knees above your hips.

Constipation can sometimes be an indicator of another problem. See your doctor if:
·      You have any sudden changes in your usual bowel habits.
·      You have any pain when passing a bowel motion.
·      Your bowel motions are black or bloody.
·      You have not passed a bowel motion in more than one week.
·      You need to take laxatives regularly (every few days).
·      You have a family history of bowel cancer or other bowel disease.

Managing constipation can be a debilitating, life-long problem. To achieve the best outcome, there is no way to avoid a healthy diet and lifestyle.

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