pen in hand holding onto a calculator

Though most of us have experienced constipation at some point of our lives, it remains an issue that many are unwilling to discuss. To raise awareness about the scale of the impact of constipation on both patients and the Health Service, the Bowel Interest Group published its Cost of Constipation report this summer, presenting eye-opening data that makes it clear more needs to be done to alleviate the problem.

GPs should be a first port of call for patients suffering with constipation; yet one in five are too embarrassed to talk to their GP

Highlighting the scale of stigma associated with constipation, an equal proportion said they would be embarrassed to discuss erectile dysfunction with their GP. As there is a lack of understanding about what constipation is, what is ‘normal’ when it comes to bowel health and how it should be treated, it is vital for sufferers to be able to speak comfortably to a medical professional as early on as possible.

Unfortunately, the stigma means that people are suffering in silence needlessly until the condition becomes too difficult to bear, necessitating more intensive treatment. In 2017/18, constipation was the cause of 71,430 hospital admissions, the equivalent of 196 people a day! Constipation is a treatable and manageable condition, so earlier and improved treatment would alleviate an unnecessary burden on the NHS: in the same year, the total cost for treating unplanned admissions due to constipation was £71 million.

Even more importantly, there is a long-term impact on wellbeing and quality of life. Chronic constipation can cause debilitating physical and psychological distress, especially as it can cause other issues, such as chronic pain and urinary tract infections (UTIs). For some patients with existing health conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, constipation is yet one more complication that can amplify anxiety and depression. In fact, 40% of patients with constipation experience an anxiety disorder.

The perception that constipation is a minor health issue that can be easily treated at home without professional support can lead to avoidable aggravation of the problem.

Bowel habits are an important indicator of our health and any complaints in this area should be given the same attention and care as other ailments. Patients suffering from constipation may simply require advice about improved diet, exercise and laxatives – of course, good bowel health starts at home – but those with long-term conditions or immobility may need more intensive treatment. Improved understanding about bowel health can therefore empower patients and help to prevent unnecessary suffering, while at the same time eliminating avoidable costs for the NHS.

Please find the full report here.

This post has been written by Dr Benjamin Disney, Consultant Gastroenterologist at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust. 

If you would like to talk to someone please don’t hesitate to call the Bladder & Bowel UK helpline on 0161 214 4591. Or if you would prefer, you can email us at:


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