Saturday 25 January 2020

Constipation: Don't suffer in silence!

WE all know the symptoms: bloating, stomach pains and pain while going to the loo. But most of us would rather suffer in silence than utter that dreaded word: constipation. However, one person who isn't afraid to talk about it is Dr Pixie Mckenna of Embarrassing Bodies fame, who has lent her support to a new campaign from Senokot called ' Constipation Matters'.

Research undertaken as part of the campaign reveals that almost one in six people is constipated, with women three times more likely to suffer from it than men. And regardless of gender half of us are uncomfortable asking our pharmacist for a remedy.

Unfortunately if you're pregnant, the chances of becoming constipated are high, according to Mckenna.

"It's very much a hormonal thing – changes that ensue during this period can contribute to your digestive system slowing down."

Iron supplementation, which is often recommended to pregnant women, is another well- known culprit.

"Unfortunately if you're on iron supplements, you are very likely to get blocked up," Mckenna explains. "And certain brands can cause it more than others. Make sure to drink a glass of orange juice when taking your iron tablet and increase your fruit and veg intake from five portions to seven to 10 portions a day to help get things moving again.

"I would encourage all pregnant women to remain as active as possible. Also, increase your fluid intake – you should be drinking at least three to four pints of water per day. And remember that stress is another thing that slows our bowel down, so be aware of that and try to minimise it."

Mckenna is a big advocate of taking the embarrassment out of going to the toilet.

"Don't be embarrassed. A lot of people store up their bowel motion until they're at home in a nice environment, and that in itself can cause problems. Remember that if you've got to go, you've got to go. Everyone's got to poo. If it is in a restaurant or a friend's house, so be it."


Mckenna says that, if left untreated, constipation can lead to big problems such as piles and anal fissures (which are like tiny paper cuts in your back passage, causing excruciating pain when you open your bowels.) She says that for women with prolapsed womb issues, it can also exacerbate this condition.

She advises any woman suffering with constipation, especially pregnant women, to talk to their pharmacist.

"Go to your pharmacist because he or she is really well placed to advise you. Most pharmacies have a consultation room so you don't have to discuss your toilet habits with your next- door neighbour who is buying their paracetamol! Don't be afraid of using tried-andtested remedies, which you can buy over the counter. It's far worse to let it build up – then you're dealing with a new baby and piles or an anal fissure and that's the last thing you want to be adding into the mix."

Mckenna says that in the post- partum period a lot of women remain constipated. "Your routine is often very different and you might be eating at different times than normal. This can really impact your motions."

The types of food choices you make are really important, she says: "You need to eat 10 apples to get your daily dose of fibre. But you only need four figs. And bran-based cereals are much better than ordinary ones. Substitution is the key thing here."

Laxatives also have a role to play, she says. "I'm not saying it's something you continuously have to use, but laxatives do have a role. They can kick- start your system and help it get back into sync."


Although it mightn't be something we associate with infants, babies do get constipated too, says Mckenna.

"It is actually quite normal. It may be caused by a baby going from breast to bottle or just a change in formula. If your baby is constipated, it's advisable to see your GP or health nurse because you need to make sure it's not a sign of something else, such as an intrinsic bowel problem."

She says toddlers and younger children often become constipated for the same reason adults do. "They're often not eating enough fruit and vegetables and they're not drinking enough fluids. There can also be issues at school where they feel embarrassed to go to the loo in case other children make fun of them. What you want to try to do is get them into a routine – if they can go in the morning, that's ideal."

But is it always obvious if your child is constipated especially if they're a little older and going to the toilet on their own?

"Quite often children will tell you that it's uncomfortable to poo or that it hurts. Others may spend ages in the loo."

She says that while kids are not likely to get piles, they do get tears, and constipation in childhood can often become a chronic problem.

"As well as leaving them very uncomfortable and giving them tummy pains, it can also give rise to urinary tract infections. There are actually lots of issues around constipation in children and it's something we'd see a lot of in paediatric units."

Although children can be given laxatives, Mckenna urges that you get advice from your GP or health nurse beforehand. "Particularly with children it's important for them to get the once over first," she adds.

Ultimately though, Mckenna feels it's very important to realise that constipation, whether it's in children or adults, is easily treatable and not something to be embarrassed or ashamed about.

"Emphasise to your child [and to yourself ] that there's nothing to be embarrassed about. Remind your kids that whoever they may admire on TV or movies or on the football pitch, they all have to poo!"

The research for 'Constipation Matters' was undertaken with over 1,000 Irish people and supported by Senokot. For more information on constipation and methods of treatment visit the Senokot website

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