What exactly is occasional constipation?
Occasional constipation can impact your quality of life. We say 'occasional constipation' when someone is experiencing uncomfortable or infrequent bowel movements. This means less than three poos a week.
With occasional constipation, the poo is often dry and/or small, which makes it difficult or even painful to pass1. Other symptoms can include pain, discomfort or bloating in the abdomen, and feeling sluggish2.
The symptoms of constipation may resemble other medical conditions or problems. They may even be a symptom of another medical problem2. So if you're constipated for more than a week - or you notice a sudden change in your bowel habits - it's important you consult your doctor.
How your digestive system works
Your digestive system is made up of a complex group of organs. They work in harmony to transform food into the energy and nutrients your body needs to work properly and stay healthy. Proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water are nutrients. Your digestive system breaks nutrients into parts small enough for your body to absorb and use for energy, growth, and cell repair. Your large intestine absorbs water, and the waste products of digestion become poo. Nerves and hormones help control the digestive process3.
Digestion begins in the mouth. Once food is chewed and mixed with saliva, it moves down into the oesophagus and then the stomach. After food enters your stomach, the stomach muscles mix the food and liquid with digestive juices. The stomach slowly empties its contents, called chyme, into your small intestine.
The food then passes through the small intestine, where it is broken down into simple molecules. The walls of the small intestine absorb water and the digested nutrients into the bloodstream. Non-absorbed waste products of the digestive process move into the large intestine.
The last stage of digestion takes place in the large intestine (also called the colon). The large intestine further absorbs water and electrolytes changing the waste from liquid into poo. Then the compacted residue is transported to the rectum where it's stored until sufficient volume triggers the receptors to evacuate the poo.
Occasional constipation can occur when the waste in the rectum is too dry to trigger the ejection reflex, or if the contractions of the colon are too weak to drive the poo out of your body. This, in turn, can make the poo harder because it stays in the rectum. This can cause pain, flatulence and bloating.
Frequently asked questions
When you start talking about constipation, the same questions often pop up. Here they are, along with the answers.
Primary constipation is characterised by difficult, infrequent, and/or incomplete defecation without any known cause or identified underlying illness. This is by far the most common condition when it comes to constipation. It means that even after a thorough medical examination including diagnostic tests, no organic causes can be detected which can be held responsible for your constipation symptoms.
This type of constipation is associated with factors that impact your poo routine. Examples of possible organic causes include bowel blockages or narrowed areas. There are several common medical conditions that can affect the muscles or nerves used for normal bowel movements, which can be the cause of constipation, including4:
- Drug effects
- Mechanical obstruction (e.g. due to colon cancer, external compression from a malignant lesion)
- Narrowing of the large intestine
- Postsurgical abnormalities
- Abnormal dilation of the large intestine (megacolon)
- Anal fissure (a tear or open sore that develops in the lining of the large intestine)
- Disorders of the metabolism, such as Diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, hypercalcemia, hypokalemia, hypomagnesemia, uraemia
- Heavy metal poisoning
- Chronic diseases of the muscles and nerves, including Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis, dementia, spinal cord injury or tumour
- Other conditions, including depression, degenerative joint disease and immobility, cardiac disease
In conclusion, this type of constipation could be caused by medication or it could be due to a side effect from a disease. A doctor can test to see if the problem is medical. And when you know what caused your body’s reaction, you and your doctor can act on it. Medical problems can often be treated.
Acute versus chronic constipation
It is important to distinguish between acute (days to weeks) or chronic (months to years) onset of constipation. It's this information, in the context of accompanied symptoms, that helps doctors discover the cause of constipation.
Most frequently, chronic constipation is the result of a primary disturbance of bowel function due to dietary factors (such as insufficient fibre intake), lifestyle factors (for example, lack of mobility or a sedentary lifestyle) or a disorder of poo transport through the large intestine or rectal emptying5.
Constipation may cause you troublesome complications, these can interfere with your daily life and affect your happiness. They may include6:
- Swollen veins in your anus (haemorrhoids). Straining to have a poo may cause swelling in the veins in and around your anus.
- Torn skin in your anus (anal fissure). A large or hard poo can cause tiny tears in the anus.
- Poo that can't be expelled (faecal impaction). Constipation may cause an accumulation of hardened poo that gets stuck in your intestines.
- Intestine that protrudes from the anus (rectal prolapse). Straining to have a poo can cause a small amount of the rectum to stretch and protrude from the anus.
The Dulco® range
In cases of occasional constipation, you can turn to some active ingredients-based laxatives. This includes Bisacodyl, found in Dulcolax® tablets, Sodium Picosulfate found in Dulcolax® Pico liquid, or docusate sodium, found in DulcoEase®.
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health (NIH) – National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Constipation. 2018 https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/definition-facts. Accessed 01/11/2022
2. John Hopkins Medicine. Health conditions and diseases – Constipation. 2021. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/constipation. Accessed 01/11/2022
3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health (NIH) – National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Your Digestive System & How it Works. 2017 https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works Accessed 01/11/2022
4. Bharucha AE, Lacy BE. Mechanisms, Evaluation, and Management of Chronic Constipation. Gastroenterology. 2020 Apr;158(5):1232-1249.e3. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2019.12.034.
5. Camilleri M, Ford AC, Mawe GM, Dinning PG, Rao SS, Chey WD, Simrén M, Lembo A, Young-Fadok TM, Chang L. Chronic constipation. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2017 Dec 14;3
6. MayoClinic 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/constipation/symptoms-causes/syc-20354253 Accessed 01/11/2022