Symptoms of constipation

If you are constipated, you won’t have regular bowel movements (poo, stools or faeces). You might not have one for a few days or more.

The early symptoms of constipation can include:

  • difficulty and pain when passing a poo
  • fewer than 3 poo's a week
  • having to strain a lot when trying to open your bowels
  • hard poo that looks like small hard pellets
  • feeling bloated and sluggish

Severe constipation

Severe constipation can cause more serious symptoms such as:

  • a swollen, hard tummy (with or without pain)
  • very liquid diarrhoea that you can’t control at all (overflow diarrhoea)
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling and being sick
  • headaches
  • confusion and feeling restless
  • being unable to pass urine (urinary retention)

What to do if you have constipation

Make sure that you get early treatment for constipation. It will make it much easier to sort the problem out. Leaving constipation for too long can lead to more serious problems such as a bowel blockage (obstruction).

Let your doctor or nurse know straight away if you haven't had a bowel movement for more than 3 days. There are medicines to help with constipation.
Last reviewed: 
08 Aug 2019
  • Constipation - Clinical Knowledge Summary
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2016

  • Diagnosis, assessment and management of constipation in advanced cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines

    P.J Larkin and others

    Annals of Oncology, 2018. Vol 29, Supplement 4.

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