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Constipation

What is constipation?

No exact definition of constipation exists. Constipation is generally understood as troublesome hard stools with more than 3 days interval. The normal interval ranges from 3 stools per day to 3 stools per week.

Troublesome means that excessive pressure is needed and often a feeling of incomplete bowel emptying exists. Often over the counter laxatives are used.

Bowel function depends on the diet, especially the dietary fiber content and fluid volume. The advised amount of dietary fiber is 25-30 grams daily but on average only half of that is consumed. The daily fluid volume should be at least 2.5 liters.

Exercise is also considered necessary to maintain a normal bowel function.

When should you seek medical attention?

80% of the population is experiencing periods of constipation and these short-term periods are normal. If you experience defecation intervals longer than 3 days and lasting for more than 3 weeks, you should seek medical advice.

It is a general misconception that you need to have normal bowel function every day, which has led to an overuse of laxatives.

Common causes of constipation

Low intake of dietary fiber and fluids, little exercise, lifestyle changes, change of diet, travelling, pregnancy, suppression of toilet usage through longer periods of time (ex. bus drivers, flight crews, etc.). Several other benign conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, anal fissure etc. contribute to constipation. Read more about these conditions on the homepage.

More serious causes of constipation

Intestinal obstruction (intestinal inflammation, tumor) adhesions after previous surgery, diabetes, metabolic disorders, nerve disorders.

Can medication cause constipation?

Yes, several types of medication have constipation as a side effect:

  • Painkillers
  • Antidepressants
  • Medication for other mental disorders
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Diuretics
  • Cholesterol medication
  • Calcium supplements

Can the cause of constipation be determined?

In most cases of constipation, the examination of the bowel appearance and function turn out to be normal. In cases of prolonged constipation, a colonoscopy may be necessary to exclude serious conditions of the bowel. Read more about colonoscopy.

How can constipation be treated?

In most cases, constipation can be effectively treated by increasing fiber in the diet and fluid intake. See additional information about proper diet on the homepage of the Danish Food Administration (danish language) www.altomkost.dk. Fiber supplements may be used and can be purchased at pharmacies, health stores, large grocery stores, etc. It is very important not to rush when going to the bathroom. Give yourself time enough.

Change of lifestyle (diet, working conditions) may be considered.

Laxatives should only be used in agreement with your general practitioner, who can also provide further advice and maybe refer you to a dietician.