Bowel

National Continence Helpline

8am - 8pm Monday to Friday AEST Talk to a continence nurse

Constipation

Get help from a health care professional, or talk to your supervisor or care coordinator if:

  • the person looks unwell or has pain in their abdomen (stomach) or anus
  • the bowel motion looks black, dark red, or bright red
  • there is blood in the toilet bowel or on the toilet paper.

Important

Constipation can become very serious if it's not managed properly. If you notice a change to the normal bowel habits of the person you support, talk to your supervisor, care coordinator or a health care professional.

What is constipation?

Constipation is when a person has bowel motions which are hard to pass, fewer bowel motions than normal or no bowel motions at all.

How do you know if the person you support is constipated?

  • No bowel motions or less often (e.g. slowing from a bowel motion every day to once every 3-4 days). If they have a bowel chart, review it.
  • The bowel motions look hard and dry.
  • Bowel motions are harder to pass. The person might grunt, strain or seem distressed.
  • The person might sit on the toilet for a long time without success, or want to go more often than usual.
  • They may avoid going to the toilet because it hurts.
  • They might seem restless or upset.
  • They might not want to eat or drink.
  • Their abdomen (stomach) might look swollen or feel hard, and cause pain.
  • If the person in non-verbal, watch for any signs that they are uncomfortable.
  • If they are very constipated, you might see them trying to use their fingers to get the faeces out.

What do you do if the person is constipated?

  • If possible, leave them alone on the toilet, as being watched can be off-putting.
  • Make sure that they are sitting the correct way on the toilet. For more information go to Correct toileting position.
  • If the person has a physical disability, make sure any supportive devices are used. Check if their needs have changed.
  • Make sure the toilet is warm and well-lit, to help them feel comfortable.
  • If they use a wheelchair or mobility equipment, moving them regularly can help. Follow their positioning plan if they have one.
  • If they have been prescribed laxatives by a GP or health practitioner, make sure that they have taken them. They might need a review by a health care professional.
  • If they have a toileting or bowel management plan, make sure it is followed.
  • Check if there have been any changes in their diet or routine:
    • Have they changed what they eat?
    • Are they drinking less than usual, or not enough water in hot weather?
    • Have they stopped exercising?
    • Have they started any new medicines? Do not change the medicines, but tell their GP if they become constipated.

Don't give the person any medicine for their bowels unless it has been prescribed by a health care professional.

If the person you support has a spinal injury above T6, make sure you know the signs and symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia.

Need more help? Call the National Continence Helpline on 18OO 33 OO 66 and talk to a continence nurse advisor.

Extra Resources

This information is not a substitute for independent professional advice.