Risk factors for constipation include:
- Age (older people are more likely to become constipated)
- Gender (women are more likely to become constipated)
- A diet that’s low in fibre
- Little or no physical activity
- The use of certain medications
- The presence of certain conditions (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease)
Who gets constipation?
Nearly everyone becomes constipated at one point or another.
Older people are more likely to become constipated, as the muscles in the digestive system no longer work as well. However, constipation isn’t a normal part of ageing.
Women are more likely to suffer from constipation than men, with some studies showing that they’re three times more likely to be affected. The reasons aren’t entirely understood, but it’s thought to be because of hormone changes.
About two in every five women experience constipation during their pregnancy, mostly during the early stages. This is because the body produces more progesterone, which acts as a muscle relaxant.
Constipation also seems to be more common in people of low socio-economic status and low education level. This is most likely due to a lack of available information as well as a diet that’s lower in whole grains, fruit and vegetables.
People who don’t exercise much, and those on certain medications, are also more likely to be constipated.
Constipation is quite common in babies and children. Poor diet, fear about using the toilet, and poor toilet training can all be responsible. Children who are overfed, and babies who have too much milk, are more likely to get constipated.
Causes and prognosis of constipation
Reviewed by Kim Hofmann, registered dietitian, BSc Medical (Honours) Nutrition and Dietetics, BSc (Honours) Psychology, December 2017.