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Everybody has their own regular bowel habit – depending on your diet, fluid intake and how much and when you exercise. You can have bowel motions three times a day or once a week and still be normal. Breast-fed infants, for example may pass a motion after each feed, or only once every 4-5 days. Constipation occurs when bowel motions are harder or drier than usual and become difficult to pass. This will generally occur when the stool moves too slowly through the colon and too much water is absorbed. The can happen when the natural contractions and rhythms of the bowel have been disturbed.You are more likely to be constipated if you

  • Don’t eat much fibre (e.g. cereals, breads, fresh fruit and vegetables)
  • Have been less active lately (e.g. after surgery or when travelling)
  • Don’t drink enough water
  • Are stressed or feeling low
  • Are pregnant or have recently had a baby
  • Are using new medications
  • Resist the urge to defecate

Constipation can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition. Contact your doctor if your normal bowel habit changes or you have alternate episodes of constipation and diarrhoea, especially after the age of 40. If your bowel motions become painful or your motions are blood stained or black and tar-like, you should also talk to your doctor. Weight loss, vomiting, headaches and generally feeling tired or unwell are also symptoms of what could possibly be an underlying condition.