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Constipation

Updated 05 March 2019

Constipation: FAQs

We answer a few frequently asked questions about constipation.

1. What is a normal consistency for a bowel movement?

Bowel movements should be soft and formed.

The Bristol Stool Chart is a good way to define your bowel consistency and determine whether you have constipation.

This chart was developed by Dr K Hering at the University of Bristol and was first published in the British Medical Journal in 1990.

There are 7 categories of stool. Normal stools are soft and easy to pass – like types 3 and 4 below. Types 1 and 2 indicate constipation.

Bristol Stool Chart

Type 1

Separate hard lumps

Very constipated

Type 2

Lumpy and sausage like

Slightly constipated

Type 3

A sausage shape with cracks in the surface

Normal

Type 4

Like a smooth, soft sausage or snake

Normal

Type 5

Soft blobs with clear-cut edges

Lacking fibre

Type 6

Mushy consistency with ragged edges

Inflammation

Type 7

Liquid consistency with no solid pieces

Inflammation

2. How often should I have a bowel movement

Normal bowel movement frequency ranges from as many as three bowel movements per day to as few as three bowel movements per week. 

3. How much fibre do I need in my diet?

The recommended amount of fibre per day is between 25-35g. If you’re increasing the fibre in your diet, increase it by 5-6g every two weeks.

This is to reduce the side effect of gas, which occurs when you add fibre to your diet. The gas will decrease over time. 

4. Can I use a fibre supplements rather than eat fibre?

There’s no difference whether you eat fibre or take a supplement, so you can use the fibre supplement instead of eating fibre. Some people feel that the supplement makes them have less gas. 

5. Can fibre worsen constipation? 

Yes, fibre can worsen constipation, but only when too little fluid is taken with the increased intake of fibre. Fibre requires water to work best.

If there’s too little fluid, the stools will continue to be hard and difficult to move.

6. Does Activia yoghurt help constipation like they say on the commercial?

Activia can improve mild constipation, yes. Studies have shown an improvement in about two weeks, with two Activia yoghurts a day giving the best results.

7. Do bananas cause constipation in adults?

Many people believe that green or unripe bananas cause constipation, but there’s no strong evidence to show that this is the case. The resistant starch in green bananas actually acts like soluble fibre, and has been used to treat constipation and help reduce diarrhoea.

There have been some reports of people experiencing digestive discomfort after eating them, including bloating, gas and constipation. If you feel they give you constipation, eat less of bananas or cut them out for a while to see if it helps.

8. Does dairy cause constipation?

In some people, particularly children, large intakes of milk and other dairy products can cause constipation. This may be because of the low-fibre, high-fat profile of dairy.


Reviewed by Kim Hofmann, registered dietitian, BSc Medical (Honours) Nutrition and Dietetics, BSc (Honours) Psychology, December 2017.