How to deal with symptoms of constipation in adults

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Over the course of your life, you might experience constipation from time to time. It's perfectly normal. In fact, it's one of the most common gastrointestinal problems and happens to most people at some point1.

When constipation strikes, it's natural to have questions about it, including how long it lasts, what causes it and what you can do to find relief and keep yourself regular. You'll find all the answers here.

What are the common symptoms of constipation in adults?

The first step to deal with your body’s signals is to spot them and understand what they mean. But symptoms of constipation can differ from person to person. Here are the most common symptoms of constipation in adults:

Fewer trips to the bathroom

Being 'regular' is different for everyone. Some of us go every day. Others a few times a week. However, fewer than three poos a week is a sign your body is struggling to pass unwanted food.

Difficulty going

When your poo is dry or hard, or when you have to strain, you can feel bunged up or like you haven't fully emptied your bowels.

Feeling bloated

Bloating is a very common symptom of constipation in adults.

Abdominal discomfort and pain

Being constipated is uncomfortable. It can cause tummy ache and discomfort.

Feeling bunged up

When you aren't emptying your bowels completely, this can make you feel blocked up. This is one of the most common symptoms of constipation in adults.

Please be aware that the symptoms of constipation may resemble other medical conditions or may be caused by other health problems. If your constipation persists, you should speak to your doctor to exclude other conditions.

What causes constipation?

Hard and dry stools are the result of too much water being absorbed by the body from the large intestine. When the colon's muscle contractions are slow or sluggish, the stool moves through the colon too slowly, resulting in too much water being absorbed2. Some of the most common causes of constipation include:

Lack of exercise

Not getting enough physical activity during the day can make you constipated.

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Not eating enough high-fibre foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can cause constipation. Eating a lot of high-fat meats, dairy products and eggs, or rich desserts, sugary sweets and prepared foods can also make you constipated3.

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Medical conditions

Some problems, like stroke, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, an underactive thyroid, depression, lack of potassium, magnesium or too much calcium or a blockage in the intestines can cause constipation4.

That's because these conditions can affect the muscles or nerves used for normal bowel movements. A doctor can test to see if the problem is medical. Remember, medical problems can often be treated.


Some medicines can cause symptoms of constipation in adults. These include some drugs used to treat depression, antacids containing aluminium or calcium, iron supplements, some allergy medicines (antihistamines), certain painkillers (opioids), some drugs for high blood pressure, including diuretics, and some drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease5.

Holding in your poo

Lots of people prefer to poo at home. But this can cause constipation if it means holding it in for too long.

Being pregnant

The body goes through so many changes during pregnancy. The increased levels of hormones can slow down the digestive system, causing muscles to relax2. And that can make toilet time more difficult.


Healthy mind, healthy body. Our digestive systems can be sensitive to stress, and sudden changes in our lives can trigger constipation and discomfort.

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Getting older

As you get older, the muscles in your digestive tract need a little more time to move food through your system. The number of bowel movements generally decreases with age6.

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Moving around can sometimes change your toilet habits. Jetlag can last for several days and your circadian rhythm needs time to readapt to your new time zone.

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How to manage occasional constipation

Don’t worry, there’s no need to change your whole routine. Start by making small changes to see how your body reacts and go from there. Here are a few simple tips to help yourself feel lighter and brighter:

1. Change your diet

Help your body process food by being more aware of what you eat. Start by trying to eat more fibre. A fibre-rich diet accelerates the transport of poo through the large intestine. It also softens poo and increases its weight, which helps keep you regular. Speak to your doctor for advice on how to best adapt your diet.

2. Start exercising

Physical inactivity, especially in the elderly, can slow down the large intestine by increasing the time poo needs to move through the colon. Research has found that, while moderate increased activity doesn't change bowel functions in healthy people, modest physical activity may help with mild constipation7.

3. Don’t hold it in!

When you feel the urge to go to the loo, go to the loo. It can also help if you can take your time and don’t feel rushed or stressed. Don't suppress the urge to poo.

4. Get into the habit

Many people find that going to the toilet at a specific time each day can help their body create a new routine. The way you sit on the toilet can affect the function of your bowels, so lean well forward, with a straight back and with your feet supported8.

5. Talk to your doctor about any medicines you're taking

Some medicines can make you constipated. These include some drugs used to treat depression, antacids containing aluminium or calcium, iron supplements, some allergy medicines (antihistamines), certain painkillers, some drugs for high blood pressure, including diuretics, and some drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease.

If you suffer from constipation from time and use these kind of medicines, talk to your doctor.

6. Try a laxative for occasional constipation

Often, symptoms of constipation in adults can be treated through dietary and lifestyle changes, which can also help prevent the condition. However, this alone may not be enough.

When diet and lifestyle changes haven't helped, you may need to try a laxative. Your doctor may recommend using a laxative for a short time9,10.

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