Constipation is a condition where bowel motions are passed infrequently or with difficulty or pain. Constipation is where there is a change in normal bowel habit. Often the stools are small, dry and hard. It is more common in children as they are more susceptible to picking up infections, and in older people as they are less active. It is also commonly experienced by pregnant women as hormone changes in and pressure from the growing baby can contribute to constipation.

  • Insufficient fibre in the diet.
  • Poor fluid intake.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Change in diet while travelling or on holiday.
  • Some medicines including painkillers e.g. codeine.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Waiting too long to have a bowel movement.
  • Medications containing iron.
  • Indigestion remedies containing aluminium or calcium salts.
  • Travel sickness tablets and certain prescription medicines

Poor diet is the most common cause and can be corrected by increasing fibre intake to bulk the stools and also by increasing fluid intake to help soften the stools. It's particularly important to increase water and fibre intake simultaneously as extra fibre on its own can make the faeces hard.

Bulking Laxatives

These products e.g. isphagula and sterculia, act in the same way as fibre. They absorb water and expand, increasing the volume of the stool. They can take up to three days to work and must be taken with plenty of water. Care should be taken in the elderly as bulking may cause blockage. These products should not be taken before lying down e.g. at bedtime to prevent any swelling of the contents of the stomach.

Osmotic Laxatives

These products e.g. lactulose and glycerine suppositories work by drawing water into the bowel form the rest of the body. They should therefore be taken with plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Lactulose is gentle on the stomach and can take a day or two to work. Glycerine however has a more rapid effect and can act in less than one hour.

Stimulant Laxatives

These products e.g. senna, bisacodyl and sodium picosulphate, Increase the contractions of the bowel and encourage evacuation. They can cause cramping. These laxatives cause a bowel motion within 8-12 hours of taking the dose therefore they should be taken at night. These laxatives should only be used short term.

Laxative abuse!!!

Laxatives are sometimes abused or misused as a method of losing weight. However, laxatives do not encourage weight loss; they just encourage fluid loss, which if not replaced can make a person very ill. Prolonged laxative use can also stop a bowel form working properly. Therefore, they should only ever be used on a short term basis.
Visit your doctor or pharmacist:
  • If the patient is an infant or child under 12 years.
  • If the patient is elderly.
  • If the patient is losing weight.
  • If the patient is in severe pain.
  • If there is bleeding from the back passage or blood in the stool.
  • If there is alternating diarrhoea and constipation.
  • If the patient has tried a laxative already.
  • If the problem is recurring and on-going (longer than 2 weeks).
Helpful Tips from Mulligans Pharmacy:
  • At Mulligans Pharmacy, we understand that our customers may need treatment for symptoms of a personal or sensitive nature. Our pharmacists are always available for a discreet chat in our private consultation room at your request, or you can ask a Mulligans Pharmacist a question in confidence here.
  • Increase daily fibre by switching from white to brown bread.
  • Increase fluid intake. Ideally we should drink approx. 2 litres of fluid a day or 8 glasses.
  • Increase exercise or physical activity can encourage natural bowel movement.
  • Never avoid or delay the urge to go to the toilet as this causes harder drier stools.
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The information provided is intended solely as a guide. Please seek the advice of your pharmacist to determine whether a particular service, medication, or treatment programme will be of value to you. Always check the dosage directions carefully on all medicines. Never combine medicines without consulting your doctor or pharmacist. All health facts and information contained herein should not be a substitute for medical advice. The use of this site is subject to our Terms & Conditions.
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