Constipation rarely causes any complications or long-term health problems. Treatment is usually effective, particularly if it's started promptly.
However, if you have long-term (chronic) constipation, you may be more at risk of experiencing complications.
Continually straining to pass stools can cause pain, discomfort and rectal bleeding.
In some cases, bleeding is the result of a small tear around the anus (anal fissure), but it's more often caused by haemorrhoids (piles). Piles are swollen blood vessels that form in the lower rectum and anus.
As well as bleeding, piles can also cause pain, itching around the anus, and swelling of the anus.
The symptoms of piles often settle down after a few days without treatment. However, creams and ointments are available to reduce any itching or discomfort.
See your GP as soon as possible if you experience any rectal bleeding.
Long-term constipation can increase the risk of faecal impaction, which is where dried, hard stools collect in your rectum and anus.
Once you have faecal impaction, it's very unlikely that you'll be able to get rid of the stools naturally.
Faecal impaction makes constipation worse because it's harder for stools and waste products to pass out of your anus, as the path is obstructed.
Faecal impaction can sometimes lead to a number of other complications, including:
- swelling of the rectum
- a loss of sensation in and around your anus
- bowel incontinence
- bleeding from your anus
- rectal prolapse – where part of your lower intestine falls out of place and protrudes from your anus (this can also occur as a result of repeated straining in people with chronic constipation)
Faecal impaction is usually treated with laxative medication, although suppositories (medication inserted into the anus) and mini enemas (where medicine in fluid form is injected through your anus) may sometimes be used.