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Constipation

Updated 14 November 2018

Course and prognosis of constipation

How severe the constipation is, and how long it lasts, varies from one person to the next. Many people only experience constipation for a short time

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For others, it can become a chronic, long-term problem that causes a considerable amount of pain and discomfort, and affects the quality of their life. 

Steps that will help

1. Lifestyle changes can help relieve constipation and should be tried first.

Consider making the following changes:

  • Drink more water
  • Add more fibre to your diet (increase your intake of fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains slowly)
  • Don’t skip meals
  • Eat less refined (white) food and junk food
  • Eat foods that are natural laxatives (e.g. prunes)
  • Increase your activity levels

2. Taking a laxative short-term to relive constipation. These contain chemicals that help increase stool motility, bulk or frequency of stools.

They’re usually recommended only for the short-term, as overuse can cause chronic constipation.  

Prognosis

Most people with constipation have no physical digestive system diseases or conditions associated with the constipation. Most of the time, constipation is related to poor dietary habits, low fluid intake, and lack of exercise. Therefore, most people can expect a full recovery and a return to normal bowel function within a short time. 

For people with constipation that’s caused by a disease, recovery occurs when the primary disease is attended to. 

However, more severe gastrointestinal symptoms may occur if problems with constipation continue long term. These include irreparable anatomical lesions of the intestine, atrophy, peritonitic adhesions, malpositions of the bowel, perforation and inflammation of the thin layer of tissue that covers the inside of the abdomen, and death.  

If surgery is required to remove a cancerous or problematic portion of bowel, the individual may require an artificial opening (stoma) of the colon through the abdominal wall for the purpose of faecal elimination (colostomy). A colostomy may be temporary or permanent depending on the portion of bowel that’s surgically removed. 

Read more:
Diagnosing constipation

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