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Constipation, causes and consequences

In Spain, constipation affects 29.5% of the population. Fast-paced lifestyles, anxiety, depression, inadequate diets, overweight, obesity and medication abuse mean that this figure is on the increase, mainly affecting women.

It should be noted that the risk also increases with age, with an estimated prevalence of 33.5% in older people.


Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders. It is defined as infrequent bowel movements, less than three times a week, and with hard stools that make evacuation difficult and sometimes painful. Often there is also a feeling of persistent incomplete evacuation.


Depending on the duration and severity, constipation can be classified as occasional or chronic:


Occasional: Occasional constipation occurs sporadically.

It appears occasionally and has a short duration, having little effect on daily life.

Main causes: Changes in diet and water intake; lack of physical exercise, medication and emotional health (nerves and stress).

Treatment consists of adjusting diet, physical exercise and occasional use of laxatives.


Symptomatology persists for at least 3 months, and can last for years.

It alters the rhythm of life.

Chronic constipation derives mainly from digestive pathologies, specific diseases and slow or no intestinal transit.

It requires medical attention. It is advisable to see a doctor and consult a pharmacist.


An inadequate diet is the most common cause of constipation. Low-fibre diets, with excessive consumption of caffeine, carbonated drinks and alcohol. Eating in a hurry or skipping meals can also be a cause of constipation.

Lack of physical activity, which can lead to slow or no bowel transit.


Hormonal changes: 50% of women suffer from constipation during pregnancy. During the menopause there is also a change in the hormonal pattern that can cause constipation.

Others: avoidance of bowel movements, stress, smoking cessation, laxative abuse, some drugs, surgery…


Constipation does not usually produce serious health consequences. The main side effects are located in the anus:

Haemorrhoids: inflammations in the veins of the rectum and anus. They appear more frequently during pregnancy and in obese, sedentary people with constipation problems.


Anal fissure: caused by overexertion. They are very annoying lesions.

Other more serious but less common side effects may occur, such as dehydration, nausea, vomiting, urinary incontinence, rapid pulse, fever, agitation and confusion. These effects usually affect older people.

Tips for Constipation
We are going to give some simple tips to improve constipation, recommendations based on diet and lifestyle.

Diet tips:
Consume enough fibre on a daily basis. It is advisable to eat fresh fruit with skin, whole grains, raw vegetables and pulses.
Drink fermented milks with probiotics, which promote intestinal transit and also reduce the feeling of bloating by helping the digestive system to function.
Drink plenty of fluids: water, herbal teas and mild broths, always avoiding stimulating drinks and fizzy, sugary soft drinks that can accentuate digestive discomfort.
It is also important to avoid excessive sweets and sugars, as well as fatty and irritating foods.

Lifestyle advice:
Engaging in physical activity promotes bowel transit, improves heavy digestions and relieves stress, which can also be a cause of digestive discomfort.
Take the necessary time to have a bowel movement, without forcing defecation. Try to always go to the toilet at the same time.
Consult your doctor about the medicines you take, in case they may cause constipation.

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