Digestive Health

02 March 2017

Constipation in women

SPONSORED: Constipation affects one in three people, undermining their quality of life and women are especially susceptible.


Constipation is a widespread health problem. In South Africa it affects 29 % of people in all ethnic groups and is the most common gastrointestinal complaint (1).

Research suggests women suffer more frequently than men, as they appear to have slower movement of the intestinal tract (2).

Pregnancy hormones slow the movement further, and studies show up to one in three pregnant women suffer from constipation (3).

This is diagnosed as having a bowel movement fewer than three times a week (4). Stools become dry, hard and difficult to pass, causing pain, bloating, straining, and if untreated, haemorrhoids.

The psychological symptoms may be as discomforting as the physical ones. According to a major multinational survey, non-constipated individuals across all age groups had a better quality of life than those who were constipated, and women reported an impaired quality of life more often than men (5)

The researchers found a ‘significant association’ between constipation and impaired psychological well-being, likening the impairment to that observed in women with a history of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease or depression.

The most common causes of constipation are consuming too little dietary fibre and liquid, and getting too little exercise. The ideal solution is to exercise regularly, drink more water and consume more dietary fibre from vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. Most contain two types of fibre in different proportions: insoluble fibre, the portion of ingested plant food that can’t be digested and adds bulk to the stool; and soluble fibre, which absorbs water  and turns to gel during digestion, softening the stool (6). Both help food pass through the intestinal tract.

However, sometimes the pace of modern life can make it hard to exercise and eat optimally, especially for busy working women. Up to 76,6 % of South Africans resort to laxatives (1), but not all are safe, and overuse can upset the body’s electrolyte and mineral balance, vital for the normal functioning of cells and organs. 

Agiolax® contains natural ingredients with a dual synergistic action appropriate for treating constipation. It has the unique combination of senna with Ispaghula and Plantago ovata for bulk formation and reliable stimulant effect (7).


1. Meiring, P.J., & Jouberg, G. (1988). Constipation in elderly patients attending a polyclinic. South African Medical Journal, 88(7), 888-890.
2.Choung, R.S., Locke III, G.R., Zinsmeister A.R., Schleck, C.D., & Talley, N.J. (2007). Epidemiology of slow and fast colonic transit using a scale of stool form in a community. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics Volume 26, Issue 7. 
3. Bonapace, E.S., & Fisher, R.S. (1998). Constipation and diarrhea in pregnancy. Gastroenterology Clinics of North America, 27(1): 197-211. 
4. Jamshed, N., Zone-En, L., & Olden, K.W. (2011). Diagnostic Approach to Chronic Constipation in Adults. American Family Physician, 84(3), 299-306.
5. Wald, A., Scarpignato, C., Kamm, M.A., Mueller-Lissner, S., Helfrich, I., Schuijt, C. et al. 2007. The burden of constipation on quality of life: results of a multinational survey. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 26(2), 227-236.
6. MedicinePlus Medical Encyclopaedia, NIH/US National Library of Medicine: References:  Lembo, A.J., & Ullman, S.P., Constipation. Feldman, M., Friedman, L.S.,  Sleisenger, M.H., eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th edition. Philadelphia, P.A.: Elsevier Saunders. (2010). Chapter 18.
7. Dibildox M., Santa, C.P., Garcia, M., Hernandez, E., & Godoy, O.  (1991). Efficacy of the combination of Plantago ovata and Senna angustifolia* in the treatment of constipation. (*Agiolax®, Byk Gulden, S.A. de C. V.) Investigacion Médica Internacional 18, 34.


Ask the Expert

Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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