Is it teething time for your little one?
 
Dr Pixie McKenna of Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies fame was in Dublin this week to launch new research that shows women are three times more likely to suffer from constipation than men, but that half of all women don’t feel comfortable asking their pharmacist for a remedy. The research, supported by Senokot was launched as part of a nationwide campaign that aims to get to the bottom of ‘Constipation Matters, by increasing awareness about the symptoms of the condition and how easily it can be treated.
 
MummyPages chatted with Dr Pixie about how it affects women today – and we can see why there is a real need for this recent research and campaign from Senokot. Dr Pixie explained that a busy and often stressed lifestyle, a poor diet and a lack of exercise can all contribute to causing constipation. On top of that women also suffer from hormonal changes during pregnancy, menopause and menstruation, which each have a huge impact too. And lastly, women’s attitude is one of the biggest factors, as it impacts the causes and of course the treatment. The research shows that women will not have a bowel movement while at work and are unlikely to talk to health professionals about constipation if it does occur.
 
We asked Dr Pixie why it is so different for men, and she explained that men are equally as likely to suffer from the condition as they are prone to a number of the same causes such as stress, diet and lack of exercise; however, they are far more likely to discuss it and seek treatment. Dr Pixie explained that men simply have a very different approach, giving the example of how men will read on the toilet, and then have no problem then announcing  that they did so, which women are not likely to do the same. Men also have no issue with having a bowl movement in work, and obviously don’t suffer from the same hormonal influences as women. That said, men are less aware of the causes of constipation, with one in five stating they didn’t know the causes compared to one in ten females. Younger groups surveyed were more likely to feel that constipation was a sensitive issue.
 
Dr Pixie remarked that “Women and men who feel embarrassed to seek treatment for constipation should know that it is easily treated today with over the counter remedies that offer fast and effective relief. I would encourage anyone suffering with constipation to take control of their digestive health and visit their local pharmacist. If you are looking for some useful advice on constipation speak to your GP or pharmacist.”
 
Dr Pixie advises: “During pregnancy it’s so important to increase your fruit and vegetable intake and up the 5 a day quota; in doing so, upping fruit intake will increase your vitamin C which is important for the absorption of iron. You should try and do as much exercise as possible that your body and pregnancy will allow. If it’s bad, seek help. She also said that there are remedies out there that are safe to use during pregnancy, and again your pharmacist and GP will guide you.
 
Constipation in children can be a real issue, as kids tend not to poo in school, and many simply don’t like fruit and vegetables. It’s so important to ensure a healthy diet for children and trying to encourage them to eat fruit and vegetables –so rather than giving them a whole apple, just give them little pieces to eat. Like adults they must also lead an active life, take in fibre and drink plenty of fluids. However, if there is a problem, you must talk to the pharmacist and GP. Many parents do not want their child to take a treatment for constipation, but this is not the right thing to do. The treatment is a once off fix to get past the problem. After that, diet and lifestyle will ensure that treatments are not required for the child. Dr Pixie states “why put your child through the stress and anxiety when something simple would get the ball rolling, and gives you time to fix their diet.”
Treatment is the start of prevention, and using something to treat the problem is the first step to putting it right with diet (which is the cornerstone to effectively avoiding constipation), lifestyle and attitude.
 
Causes of constipation include:
  • Diet - dietary fibre provides the bulk that helps to speed the passage of waste food through the bowel. Lack of fibre results in harder, more compact stools, which take longer to pass through. 
  • Lack of fluids - the body needs 1.5-2 litres a day to function efficiently. Without sufficient fluids, waste matter dries out, making it harder to move through the bowel. 
  • Lack of exercise - - if you don't exercise often, things can slow down including the muscle contractions that move waste matter through the bowel. 
  • Holiday constipation - is quite common. Any change of routine or diet can cause constipation. 
  • Pregnancy - hormonal and physical changes are probable causes. 
  • Menopause and menstruation - hormonal and lifestyle changes at these times can cause constipation. 
  • Stress - constipation can be caused by stress but stress can also be a symptom of constipation. 
  • Ageing - a lot of bodily functions slow down with age and the digestive system is just one of them. 
  • Medicines - some commonly used medicines are known to cause constipation, particularly certain painkillers (e.g. codeine), iron tablets and some antacids (e.g. aluminum hydroxide). 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) sufferers often have constipation, sometimes alternating with diarrhoea. In IBS, cramping pains and discomfort in the bowel and rectum are common.
 
Symptoms of constipation tend to vary between sufferers. Some people just experience a spot of difficulty, having to 'strain' on the toilet, while others may have physical discomfort, particularly:
  • Wind
  • Bloated stomach
  • Stomach pains/stomach cramps

Constipation doesn’t just cause gastrointestinal symptoms; people often experience the following problems when their digestive systems slow down:
  • Lethargy
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Feeling ‘down in the dumps’
 
Constipation should always be treated as chronic constipation can lead to such dangers as:
  • Diverticulitis
  • Rectal prolapse
  • Bleeding
  • Hemorrhoids
 
Fibre is required in your diet to get bowls moving and to help protect against cancer, this along with getting enough fluids and adhering to the 5-a-day fruit and veg requirements will have a great impact on how you feel and how to control and prevent constipation. Exercise and de-stressing is equally as important.
 
If left untreated, constipation can impact a person’s quality of life and can often lead to a lack of confidence. For further information on constipation or your digestive health, speak to your GP or pharmacist or visit the Senokot website.

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