Constipation

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Constipation

Constipation refers to hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass. A person with constipation is likely to find that they are not emptying their bowel as often as usual. When someone is constipated they will usually have to strain or push hard to empty their bowel. Abdominal pain, bloating and feeling sick may also occur with constipation.

What causes constipation? 

There are many causes of constipation. Common causes are insufficient fluid intake, poor diet and immobility or inactivity. Medicines, change of routine and psychological causes can also result in constipation. 

How can constipation be prevented?

Reduce the risk of constipation by:

Drinking plenty of fluid

Eating a diet rich in fibre – mostly from fruit and vegetables

Exercising to stimulate bowel activity – walking is particularly helpful.  

How is constipation treated?

Treatment of constipation will include addressing the factors that are causing it.

Poor fluid intake

If the person has a poor fluid intake gradually increasing the amount of fluid they drink may help. Eating foods with a high-water content such as soups, jelly and fruits such as watermelon can also help to boost fluid intake.
Increasing fluid intake should not be done if the person is on a restricted fluid intake due to heart or kidney problems.

Diet low in fruit and vegetables

Often eating more fruit and vegetables assists in resolving constipation. The method in which food is prepared can also affect their fibre content. For example, the fibre content of mashed potato is much lower in fibre than a potato that is cooked and eaten with its skin on. Fruit juices are considerably lower in fibre (and much higher in sugar content ) than a whole piece of fruit.

Low levels of physical activity

When we are less active our gut tends to slow down, and constipation can result. Walking is excellent to stimulate the bowels and reduce the risk of constipation.

Medication

Some medicines may cause constipation, so if this is a concern it is important to discuss this with the doctor or pharmacist.
Medicines to treat constipation such as stool softeners and laxatives may also assist. It is important to select the correct type of laxative as they have different actions and may not suit some people.

 

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Kylie – parent of a child that wets the bed 

Kylie rang our service as she was concerned about her five-year-old daughter, Mia, who was wetting the bed. Kylie had tried limiting Mia’s drinks in the late afternoon and evening and was also getting up at night to wake Mia and take her to the toilet.

Our advisor explained that it may take children until they around 5 ½ years old before they gain bladder control during sleep. Kylie was advised to encourage Mia to drink well throughout the day and was cautioned against cutting out drinks in the afternoon and early evening. Kylie was discouraged from waking Mia at night to take her to the toilet. Kylie was provided with information on obtaining a referral from Mia’s doctor to a bedwetting clinic if Mia continues to wet the bed past 5 ½ years of age.

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Anastasiya’s story

“As a mum of two young children, I have experienced the joys of two pregnancies and postpartum recoveries. I was shocked after the birth of my first child to discover that my pelvic floor muscles had become weak. I sought advice from Bladder and Bowel Health Australia and learnt the importance of exercising these muscles. This knowledge helped, and because I was better informed second time around, I have now fully restored the dignity of my body and truly enjoyed the changes - and my motherhood. Thank you, Bladder and Bowel Health Australia, for informing young families about bladder and bowel health issues.” 

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Doreen – carer of her husband who has dementia 

Doreen was becoming exhausted caring for her husband Tom, who has dementia. Tom was not always making it to the toilet on time and needed his trousers to be changed several times a day. Every day Doreen was also washing bedlinen and the four towels that Tom was laying on at night as he was soaking through his pull-up pants. 

Tom was receiving a high-level Home Care Package, and Doreen was able to arrange with their provider for some of Tom’s package to be allocated to funding continence assessment and management.  

Our advisor went to Tom’s home and conducted a thorough continence assessment. A continence management plan was developed with input from Doreen, and appropriate incontinence aids and linen protection were organised. Doreen is relieved that Tom’s incontinence has reduced, and her washing load has lessened. Doreen is now confident that she can continue caring for Tom in their home. 

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Gary – experiencing leakage after his recent prostate surgery 

Gary met with one of our Bladder and Bowel Health advisors, as he was concerned about his urine leakage that was persisting after his radical prostatectomy five weeks earlier.   

Gary discussed his concerns with the advisor and was reassured that he was making good progress towards regaining bladder control. This reinforced the information he had received from his urologist. Gary was encouraged to switch to a smaller incontinence pad rather than continuing to wear the pull- up incontinence pants he had worn since his surgery. The advisor arranged some smaller pads for him to trial and provided details on where he could buy them close to his home. 

Gary was encouraged to drink plenty of fluid (particularly water) and to increase his fruit and vegetable intake to avoid constipation. Gary was uncertain if his pelvic floor muscles were working properly and he was referred to a pelvic floor physiotherapist. Gary left the clinic in a brighter frame of mind, confident that he was improving and had clear strategies to further support his recovery.