Constipation is a common condition that affects people of all ages. It can mean that you're not passing stools regularly or you're unable to completely empty your bowel.
Constipation can also cause your stools to be hard and lumpy, as well as unusually large or small. The severity of constipation varies from person to person. Many people only experience constipation for a short time, but for others, constipation can be a long-term (chronic) condition that causes significant pain and discomfort and affects quality of life.
Symptoms of constipation
When you're constipated, passing stools becomes more difficult and less frequent than usual.
Normal bowel habits vary from person to person. Some adults go to the toilet more than once a day, whereas others may only go every three or four days. Similarly, some infants pass stools several times a day, while others only pass them a few times a week.
If you or your child pass stools less than usual, it could be a sign of constipation.
It may also be more difficult to pass stools and you may feel unable to empty your bowel completely. Your stools may appear dry, hard and lumpy, as well as abnormally large or small.
Other symptoms of constipation can include:
stomach ache and cramps,
loss of appetite,
What causes constipation?
It's often difficult to identify the exact cause of constipation. However, there are a number of things that contribute to the condition, including:
not eating enough fibre, such as fruit, vegetables and cereals,
a change in your routine or lifestyle, such as a change in your eating habits,
ignoring the urge to pass stools,
side effects of certain medications,
not drinking enough fluids,
anxiety or depression.
In children, poor diet, fear about using the toilet and problems toilet training can all lead to constipation.
Constipation can occur in babies, children and adults. It's estimated that around one in every seven adults and up to one in every three children in the UK has constipation at any one time.
The condition affects twice as many women as men and is also more common in older adults and during pregnancy.
When to see your GP
You may be able to treat constipation yourself by making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle (see below). If these changes don't help and the problem continues, you should see your GP.
Diet and lifestyle changes are usually recommended as the first treatment for constipation.
This includes gradually increasing your daily intake of fibre, making sure you drink plenty of fluids, and trying to get more exercise.
If these aren't effective, your GP may prescribe an oral laxative medication that can help you empty your bowels.
Treatment for constipation is effective, although in some cases it can take several months before a regular bowel pattern is re-established.
A number of essential oils are described as being helpful for constipation, but such information should be approached with caution. Above all, do not fall into the mistake of thinking of essential oils as a 'dose'.
The most effective application of aromatherapy for constipation is massage of the abdomen, always in a clockwise direction, and this is something that the patient can easily be taught to carry out daily at home. Experience has shown that the best oils to use for this massage are Marjoram and Rosemary, together or singly, and you can also sometimes add a very small amount of Black Pepper or Fennel. Several cups of Fennel tea daily would be a good additional therapy.
Clearly, the most important part of any treatment for constipation must be dietary. Unrefined carbohydrates, raw vegetables and fruits and all foods high in fibre, and copious drinks of water, juices and herb teas should form the major part of the daily intake, with fats, dairy products and all refined sugars and starches reduced to a minimum. The 'colon health programme' introduced by the 'Green Farm Nutrition Centre' would be a very effective way of re-educating the bowel for long-term health.
Sometimes, constipation is the result of stress, anxiety or shock, or of emotional problems, often suppressed. In such instances, aromatherapy can be used in a sensitive way to work on the underlying problems. Gentle full-body massage from a caring therapist, combined with carefully chosen oils to be used in baths between visits will reduce stress or anxiety, though if the problem is an emotional one of very long standing, it may be many weeks or months before it can be resolved. Essential oils should be related to the immediate and long-term needs of the person involved, rather than to the physical state of the gut, though gentle tummy massage and some changes in the diet can be introduced. An improvement in the physical condition will obviously raise morale and help to create the conditions of trust and confidence in the therapist, in which work at a more subtle level can take place.
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