Constipation is a condition in which a person has fewer than three bowel movements a week or has bowel movements with stools that are hard, dry, and small, making them painful or difficult to pass. People may feel bloated or have pain in their abdomen—the area between the chest and hips. Some people think they are constipated if they do not have a bowel movement every day. Bowel movements may occur three times a day or three times a week, depending on the person.

Most people get constipated at some point in their lives. Constipation can be acute, which means sudden and lasting a short time, or chronic, which means lasting a long time, even years. Most constipation is acute and not dangerous. Understanding the causes, prevention, and treatment of constipation can help many people take steps to find relief.

Constipation is caused by stool spending too much time in the colon. The colon absorbs too much water from the stool, making it hard and dry. Hard, dry stool is more difficult for the muscles of the rectum to push out of the body.

Common factors or disorders that lead to constipation are:

  • diets low in fiber
  • lack of physical activity
  • medications
  • life changes or daily routine changes
  • ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
  • neurological and metabolic disorders
  • GI tract problems
  • functional GI disorders

To diagnose the cause of constipation, the health care provider will take a medical history, perform a physical exam, and order specific tests. The tests ordered depend on how long the person has been constipated; how severe the constipation is; the person’s age; and whether the person has had blood in stools, recent changes in bowel habits, or weight loss. Most people with constipation do not need extensive testing and can be treated with changes in diet and exercise.

Treatment for constipation depends on the cause, severity, and duration of constipation and may include one or more of the following:

  • changes in eating, diet, and nutrition
  • exercise and lifestyle changes
  • medication
  • surgery
  • biofeedback

First-line treatments for constipation include changes in eating, diet, and nutrition; exercise and lifestyle changes; and laxatives. People who do not respond to these first-line treatments should talk with their health care provider about other treatments.

For more information on Constipation visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

*Information from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the Colon Cancer Alliance and MedlinePlus Trusted Health Information for You