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.

beginning of content

Constipation

3-minute read

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

Constipation is common in children.

Does it matter how often I use my bowels?

No. The timing of bowel movements varies quite a lot between different people — from 3 bowel movements per day, to 1 bowel movement every 3 days. So if you’re not having a movement every day, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem.

You are only constipated if you are having trouble with having a bowel movement, or you are not having a bowel movement as often as usual. You might also:

  • pass hard stools
  • pass only small amounts at a time
  • feel blocked, or as though you have not completely emptied your bowels

If you are constipated, you are likely to feel uncomfortable, so it's wise to find the cause and then do something about it.

What causes constipation?

Constipation happens when your poo is hard and dry, making it difficult to pass. It’s usually 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:

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 taking.

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)
  • run other tests to see if there is a problem with the muscles

Treating and preventing constipation

There are several things you can do at home to prevent constipation and treat it if it does occur. 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 when you need to, without delaying

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

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2019


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top 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 | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Constipation is a common problem in childhood

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Constipation in babies

Constipation is a condition where it is difficult to pass a stool (poo) because it is dryer and harder than normal. This can cause your baby pain and discomfort.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Constipation | Continence Foundation of Australia

Constipation is the passing of hard, dry bowel motions (stools) that may be infrequent or difficult to pass.

Read more on Continence Foundation of Australia 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 in babies and children | Raising Children Network

Children with constipation have hard poo that’s difficult to push out. A high-fibre diet and regular toileting usually helps. Some children need laxatives.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Bowels

Constipation is a major concern for palliative care patients and anticipatory management of bowel problems is crucial

Read more on CareSearch website

Bladder and bowel problems during pregnancy

During pregnancy, many women experience some rather unpleasant conditions. Maintaining a healthy diet and doing regular exercise can help make life a little easier.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Incontinence information in other languages | Continence Foundation of Australia

The following pages include factsheets and videos in 30 different languages on pelvic floor exercises for men and women, bladder leakage, childhood bedwetting, constipation and bowel control, prostate and bladder problems and healthy bladder and bowel habits.

Read more on Continence Foundation of Australia website

Faecal incontinence, soiling or encopresis | Raising Children Network

Faecal incontinence or encopresis is when children who are past the age of toilet training can’t control when and where they do a poo. It can be treated.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice 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 and advice

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