If you’re passing stools less frequently than normal, and you find it difficult or painful, you may be experiencing constipation. If this is a frequent or persistent experience, it may be linked to, or caused by, IBS.
It’s worth remembering that ‘normal’ bowel habits vary from person to person. Some pass stools more than once a day, while others do once every three or four days – without pain, discomfort or other symptoms of IBS.
If constipated, you may also have to strain while passing stools, or feel you can’t completely empty your bowel. Your stools may appear dry, hard and lumpy, or abnormally large or small.
Why am I constipated?
If stools remain in the large intestine (the colon) for too long, the colon absorbs more water from them than normal, and the stools become hard and dry. As for what causes this, there are many possible factors, and it can be hard to identify exactly why you’re experiencing it. The best approach is to consider the following:
- Are you eating enough fibre – i.e. fruit, vegetables and cereals?
- Are you drinking enough fluids?
- Are you exercising regularly?
- Have you been stressed?
- Are you going to the toilet when your body ‘tells you to’?
- Do you struggle for privacy when using the toilet?
- Have you had, or do you have, a fever?
- Are you under or overweight?
- Are you experiencing anxiety or depression?
- Have you experienced psychiatric problems?
Constipation - Should I see my GP?
You may be able to ease constipation yourself with simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, such as taking on more fibre and fluids, or tackling stress.
You should see your GP if these changes do not help, or if you’re finding it difficult to introduce these changes. If you notice any rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss or persistent tiredness you should see your GP.
There are treatments available for IBS symptoms but always discuss it first with your GP.