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Constipation can be defined as the infrequent passage of stool, less than 3/week with the need to strain to have a motion.

Normal bowel habits can range from 2-3/day to 2-3/week as long as they are soft and easy to pass. Depending on your history of constipation, increasing your fibre, fluids and exercise may help. The important key is that these changes are made permanently - not short-term.

If you have a long history of constipation it may take 2-4 weeks before you notice any change in your motion, then it may take 3-6 months before things have returned to "normal".

Some people have "slow transit time" - that means the interval it takes for your food to pass from your stomach to your anus is longer than others.

What can you do:

1. Regularly drink 2-2½ litres of fluid every day - water is best. Avoid coffee as it can be dehydrating.

2. Increase fibre: A good mix of all fibres is essential. Some fibre causes irritation, others bulk and help form the motion. Look at fruit, vegetables, cereals, breads, bran, rice, nuts, legumes, etc. Bulking agents such as Metamucil can be used for either diarrhoea or constipation. They are taken very differently.

For constipation: 1-2 teaspoons 1-2/day mixed in a large glass of water with a large glass of water to follow. This water must be over and above your usual intake.

For diarrhoea: 1-2 teaspoons sprinkled on your food 1- 2/day.

3. Increase exercise: A 20 minute exercise programme each day will help, especially walking.

4. How you sit on the toilet: Sit well back on the seat. Your knees need to be at an angle higher than your hips, ie. on tip toes or a small foot stool. Lean forward, keeping your back straight and relax your forearms on your thighs. Let your lower abdomen bulge. If you need to push, use the muscle that makes your waist wider - blowing or laughing does this.

5. Laxatives should only be used on consultation with your GP. Only ever use as short-term to get bowels moving in combination with 1 - 4 above.

If you continue to have concerns with your bowels, you should contact your local Continence Advisor who will work with and support you through the next few months while you establish a "normal" routine.