Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Constipation affects people of all ages.

Constipation affects people of all ages.
beginning of content

Constipation

Constipation can be annoying, and occasionally painful. It can usually be easily treated with simple lifestyle changes. However, in some cases there may be an underlying problem, so see your doctor if it's bad or not getting better.

Does it matter how often I use my bowels?

No. The timing of bowel movements (bowel motions) varies quite a lot in different people – from 3 bowel movements a day, to 1 bowel movement every 3 days. So if you’re not passing a movement every day, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem.

You’re only constipated if you are having trouble passing a bowel movement, or aren’t having a bowel movement as often as usual do. You might also:

  • pass hard stools
  • pass only small amounts at a time
  • feel blocked, or like you haven’t completely emptied your bowels.

If you are constipated, you’re likely to feel uncomfortable, so finding the cause and doing something about it is a good idea.

What causes constipation?

Constipation is caused by the colon (part of your digestive system) absorbing too much water from your food. This means your stools, which are produced at the end of the digestive process, get dry and hard, making them difficult to pass.

Usually, constipation is caused by:

  • not eating enough fibre
  • not drinking enough water
  • not exercising enough
  • ignoring the urge to pass a stool when you need to
  • being stressed.

You can also get constipation when you:

  • are pregnant
  • are due to get your period
  • use laxatives too much
  • are taking certain medications, such as pain killers or iron tablets
  • have a medical condition such as diabetes or a nerve disease
  • have a problem with your digestive tract, such as irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis or haemorrhoids.

Babies can get constipated when solid foods are introduced, and children might become constipated if they hold back bowel movements.

Constipation is a very common gastrointestinal problem. Almost everyone gets constipated at some time in their life.

Occasionally, constipation can be a sign of an underlying disease, such as bowel cancer. In such cases, there are likely to be other symptoms, such as a recent change in bowel habits, weight loss, anal bleeding or abdominal pain. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor.

Diagnosis of constipation

Before diagnosing constipation, your doctor will need to talk to you about your symptoms, your lifestyle, medical history and any medications you are on.

Some people will be asked to have tests, particularly if they have other symptoms, to rule out bowel cancer.

Your doctor might:

  • gently feel your abdominal area
  • examine the anus and rectum (bottom part of the bowel) using a gloved finger
  • look inside the rectum with an instrument called a sigmoidoscope
  • look inside the whole bowel with a flexible telescope (colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy)
  • do an X-ray of the large bowel (barium enema).

Treating and preventing constipation

There are several things you can do at home to prevent constipation and treat it if it does happen. These include:

  • eating more high fibre foods (you may also try adding a fibre supplement to your diet)
  • drinking plenty of water and other fluids
  • exercising regularly
  • going to the toilet to pass a movement when you need to, without delaying.

If these measures don’t work, ask your doctor for advice. They might need to check the medications you take, or prescribe a laxative to get your bowel moving.

Last reviewed: November 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 1154 results

Constipation

Constipation is when you have difficulty passing stools (poo), need to strain when going to the toilet or have infrequent bowel movements.

Read more on WA Health website

Constipation in babies

Trusted information on constipation in babies including what it is, symptoms, treatment, when to seek help, plus links to trusted resources.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Constipation: treatment options - myDr.com.au

Find out the treatment options for constipation. What's suitable for you will depend on the cause, severity and duration of your constipation.

Read more on myDr website

Constipation in children - myDr.com.au

Unlike adult constipation, childhood constipation is more often the result of a behavioural rather than a nutritional disorder.

Read more on myDr website

Parenting and Child Health - Health Topics - Constipation

Constipation is the passing of a hard bowel action (poo) with pain and discomfort. A baby is constipated if the poos (stools) are dry and crumbly or like pellets.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Constipation in babies and children | Raising Children Network

Constipation is when your child has hard poo and has trouble pushing it out. Read about signs of constipation in babies and children and what to do.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Teen Health - Health Topics - Constipation

Constipation affects everyone from time to time, and can usually (but not always)be improved by changes in diet and exercise.You may have constipation if it is harder than usual to do poo, if your poo is harder than usual and if you go less often than usual. You may feel uncomfortable when you are constipated and feel the urge to go to the toilet, but be unable to pass much or anything solid.Sometimes you may only pass runny poo when you are constipated, as only liquid poo is able to get out around the hard poo.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Constipation and children - Better Health Channel

A healthy diet, plenty of fluids, exercise and regular toilet habits can help relieve constipation in children

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Constipation, Motility Disorders and GORD in Children - Reflux Infants Support Association Inc

Constipation in children is quite common and can contribute to the severity of reflux. Discusses constipation, motility disorders and GORD in children.

Read more on Reflux Infants Support Association website

Parenting and Child Health - Health Topics - Constipation - easy read

This topic provides some information about constipation, but if you want more have a look at our other topic Constipation.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Check your symptoms Find a health service

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback