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Keeping well: constipation

What is constipation?

Constipation means difficulty opening the bowels regularly. It is important to remember that it is necessary for us to open our bowels regularly even if we are not eating much. Constipation causes a lot of problems such as discomfort, nausea, vomiting, reduced appetite and, in severe cases, confusion and bowel obstruction.

What causes it?

  • general debility, i.e. not moving around much
  • reduced fluid intake
  • diseases of the gut or
  • medications, e.g. painkillers, some anti-sickness drugs and iron supplements.

What carers can do

  • Monitor bowel habit in terms of frequency of actions and consistency and amount of motion.
  • Ensure as much fluid is taken as possible.
  • Ensure laxatives are taken as prescribed and monitor their effect.
  • Remember that everybody is different and will need different amounts of laxatives. The dose can be increased as long as it does not cause problems of colic or diarrhoea.
  • If the patient feels they are becoming constipated, discuss this with the nurse.

When to call for help

  • if bowels have not opened for two to three days
  • if there is any discomfort or other symptoms of constipation or
  • if you are not sure what to do.

In a majority of cases by taking enough oral laxatives the problem will be solved. However on occasions suppositories or enemas may be needed. Your GP will prescribe them and your district nurse will administer them and help monitor the situation. Your St Christopher’s nurse can organise this help if it is necessary.