A major new NHS campaign is underway to raise awareness of the symptoms of constipation among people with a learning disability.

The campaign aims to educate people with learning disabilities, healthcare professionals, and paid and unpaid carers about the signs of severe constipation, which can be life threatening if it is not treated.

The campaign has been codeveloped with people with learning disabilities and is launched alongside a new animation, posters for use in different care settings and toolkits for people with learning disabilities, carers and healthcare professionals.

It is hoped these new resources will prompt conversations about constipation, thereby ensuring people with learning disabilities receive treatment at the earliest opportunity.

Why is it so important to talk about constipation?

People with a learning disability are more likely to suffer from constipation than people without a learning disability, with research by LeDeR suggesting that only 10% of the general population are affected by the condition compared to 50% of people with a learning disability.

Furthermore, people with learning disabilities and are more likely to have unusual presentations and may struggle to communicate the symptoms of constipation, which can lead to misdiagnosis and emergency admissions to hospitals.

This means people with learning disabilities are also more likely to die from constipation. According to the latest Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR), 23% of the people who died in 2021 had constipation listed as a long-term health problem.

However, a review by LeDeR and South West NHS found that better recognition and management of constipation may significantly cut hospital admission and improve quality of life. This is what prompted the creation of the new NHS campaign.

Anne Worrall-Davies, interim National Clinical Director for Learning Disability and Autism, said: “Reviews into the deaths of people with a learning disability have shown us that far too many people are unnecessarily developing serious health conditions, with some even dying from constipation.

“That’s why our new campaign is so vital to support people with a learning disability, as well as their carers and primary care professionals, to identify the early signs of constipation and ensure they can receive the medical treatment they need at the earliest opportunity.

“Constipation can have a major impact on quality of life for so many people, and it can be really challenging for carers to recognise as they may not know the signs or may attribute the resulting behaviours to the person’s learning disability. But thanks to these new campaign resources, we hope to make the signs and symptoms easy to spot so that treatment can begin as soon as possible, reducing the risk of hospitalisation and helping save lives.”

Information about health needs must be accessible

The resources, which are available from the NHS website, have four key aims:

  1. Drive awareness of the seriousness of constipation
  2. Help people recognise the signs of constipation at an early stage
  3. Empower people to take action and ensure that people with a learning disability experiencing constipation receive medical attention straight away
  4. Raise awareness of the steps which can be taken to prevent constipation.

Vijay Patel, who has a learning disability and was involved in the campaign, says the campaign will help people with learning disabilities to recognise when they are constipated and seek support.

He said: “These resources are important because constipation is one of the reasons people with a learning disability die avoidably every year. It’s important that people with a learning disability recognise when going to the loo is difficult or unhealthy and can talk to someone if they are worried about it.

“It is good that people with a learning disability, like me, have been involved in the creation of these resources because information about health needs to be accessible, jargon free and easy to read, so that people can understand them and know what to do.”


You can access the full pack of resources by clicking here.