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The importance of good bowel health and the cost of constipation

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Professor Anton Emmanuel

Consultant Gastroenterologist, UCLH and the National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery

A new report uncovers the significant cost of constipation and offers guidance on good bowel health.  


Constipation isn’t talked about much, but it needs to be. Up to one in seven adults and one in three children in the UK is affected by the condition, which is not only affecting lives, but also puts a financial strain on the NHS.  

The true cost of constipation 

In its Cost of Constipation report, The Bowel Interest Group found that nearly 77,000 people in England were admitted with constipation in 2018/2019. That’s more than 200 people a day.  

Add to this the fact that £168 million was spent by NHS England on treating the condition, through emergency admissions and laxative prescriptions; and it goes to show the cost of constipation on everyone involved.  

Laxatives are often seen as a short-term, quick fix. However, many people have chronic constipation which needs tailored solutions. Chronic constipation can be caused by slow transit constipation, opiate use, antihistamines, antidepressants and coexisting medical conditions such as neurological disorders or diabetes. 

Go to the toilet when you feel the urge, delaying the need to poo can lead to constipation.

But there’s a lot that you can do to support your bowel health: 

  • Don’t be embarrassed. Bowel health can be seen as a taboo subject people don’t like to talk about it, but constipation can become a bigger issue if you leave it.  
  • Is it constipation? Your bowel movements are unique to you, so constipation for one person might be different for another.  
  • Seek advice. Speak to a pharmacist if you are experiencing constipation and would like some professional guidance and speak to your doctor if it’s an ongoing issue. 
  • Food and fibre. Your diet is important to your bowel health. The NHS recommends eating 30g of fibre every day from a variety of sources including fruit and vegetables, beans and oats. Keep hydrated too. 
  • Prioritise pooing. Go to the toilet when you feel the urge, delaying the need to poo can lead to constipation. 
  • Get comfortable. If you struggle to poo, consider how you sit on the toilet. Place your feet on a low step or similarly raise your knees, use your stomach muscles instead of straining from your head and neck.  

Constipation doesn’t need to impact your life, take action today. 

The Bowel Interest Group  is dedicated to improving bowel health and provides education for healthcare professionals. We receive funding from commercial organisations to support our work. bowelinterestgroup.co.uk

Admissions data for ICD 10 diagnosis code K59.0 (Constipation) from April 2016 to January 2020. Accessed May 2020 from Vantage System provided by Health IQ. 

https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/stomach-liver-and-gastrointestinal-tract/constipation  

Prescription data for section code 0106 (laxatives) from March 2015 – February 2020. Accessed May 2020 from Open Prescribing (https://openprescribing.net/ ). 

Good foods to help your digestion https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/good-foods-to-help-your-digestion/ 

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