When you’re constipated it becomes harder to empty your bowels. Your stools (poo) may become hard or dry and you may decrease the frequency with which you go to the toilet.

The condition is common - even affecting the great and the good - Elvis suffered chronic constipation during the last years of his life.

What causes constipation?

The top contender is diet. Being constipated usually means you are not eating enough fruit, vegetables and cereal or that you are not drinking enough fluids.

Constipation sometimes occurs as a side-effect from certain drugs, due to immobility, anxiety or another illness such as irritable bowel syndrome or colon cancer.

In children it sometimes arises due to a fear of using the toilet.

How to avoid constipation?

Eat 20-30g of fibre a day found in wholemeal breads, cereals, leafy vegetable and beans, or take a fibre supplement. Avoid processed foods such as white bread that bung you up.

Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine, alcohol and fizzy drinks. Prune juice can also help as it contains properties that aid bowel movement.

Eat breakfast daily to stimulate movement of the bowel and have a regular toilet routine (usually an hour after breakfast) so your bowels have time to work.

Don’t ignore the urge to go - waiting will only make stools drier and harder.

Keep active and exercise regularly.

How to treat constipation?

For constipation caused by a low fibre diet, take a bulk forming laxative that includes bran or ispaghula husk. These promote activity in the gut and increase bowel movements.

Stool softeners or osmotic laxatives such as lactulose and macrogols draw water into the gut, soften stools and allow them to be passed more easily. These are good for people constipated due to medication or who experience pain when going to the toilet.

Stimulant laxatives such as senna, bisacodyl and dantron can be used when stools become hard and impacted.

Most laxatives are available without a prescription but should only be for short-term use.

Consult your doctor if there is blood in the stools, abdominal pain or if the constipation is ongoing.