Constipation is a common digestive complaint that can, if it persists, lead to health problems such as haemorrhoids. When diagnosing the condition, doctors rely on symptoms such as reduced bowel movements, bloating or abdominal cramp. These symptoms can vary from person to person but normally feelings of constipation fade within a few days. Here, our digestive expert Ali Cullen explains the symptoms of constipation and how they can be reduced using herbal remedies and conventional medicines.
Constipation is a very common symptom and is one that most of us will have experienced and understood. It can arise as an occasional bout, or be a more permanent feature of your health.
In itself, constipation is not usually a major health problem. However, it can lead to conditions such as haemorrhoids and diverticulitis. So, although constipation can be an embarrassing topic, it is important that you discuss your bowel habits with your doctor if you have the problem.
This is one of the more common questions asked by doctors and naturopaths when taking a medical history.
Many definitions of constipation have been made in the past, but no universal agreement exists on how the condition is diagnosed. An attempt at a standard definition for constipation (and other digestive conditions) was made with the introduction of the ‘Rome criteria’ in 1988.
You are said to be constipated if, over a 3 month period, you have experienced at least 2 of the following:
Bowel movements less than 3 times a week
A need to strain when passing faeces
Hard, lumpy or pellet-like faeces
A sensation that the outlet of your bowel (anus) is blocked
A sensation of still needing the toilet immediately after passing faeces
Apart from going to the toilet less frequently, people describe the symptoms of constipation as:
Having to strain on the toilet
Passing hard stools
A feeling of incomplete emptying of the bowels
Less specific symptoms include:
A feeling of being bloated
Flatulence, or having excess wind
Abdominal cramp or pain
A change in the frequency of passing faeces.
For most people, symptoms of constipation come and go depending on lifestyle or dietary factors. They often resolve with a change of diet but some people may need to resort to the temporary use of laxatives in order to kick-start bowel movements.
If you suffer chronic or long-standing constipation symptoms, seek help from your doctor.
Herbs have been used to help people with constipation for many years. In general, they work by either increasing the volume or bulk in the bowel (bulking agents) or increasing the muscle activity of the bowels (stimulants).
The most popular herbs used to help relieve constipation are linseed which is a bulking agent), senna and frangula, both providing stimulant action.
Ali's TOP TIP: Linoforce comes in the form of granules and is a combination of linseed coated with senna and frangula. For best results, chew the granules well and take with plenty of water.
Hello. My name is Alison Cullen and I am an experienced nutritional therapist with a clinic in Ayrshire, Scotland. I currently combine running my clinic with the role of Education Manager for A Vogel. I lecture, train and write extensively on health issues, which I find endlessly fascinating.
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