What is Constipation?

Constipation is a common digestive health issue and individuals who have this condition have irregular bowel movements that can sometimes cause pain. There are numerous reasons why individuals can become constipated. These often include not drinking enough fluids, not eating a sufficient amount of fiber, interruptions in daily routines and infrequent exercise.

Some medications can cause constipation, as well as underlying health issues. Individuals who are at a greater risk for becoming constipated include women who are pregnant, adults over the age of 65 and people who are bedridden. Constipation can usually be corrected at home, but there are times when individuals should visit a medical professional for treatment.

What are the Symptoms of  Constipation?

People who are constipated experience various symptoms that are often uncomfortable.

Symptoms include

Common symptoms include straining to have a bowel movement, pain while passing hard stools, the inability to have more than three bowel movements a week, stomach cramping and blood in stools.

Some constipation symptoms require medical intervention and individuals should seek treatment if they occur. Symptoms that require a visit to a physician include not having a bowel movement for two weeks, fever and a swollen abdomen, weight loss with normal eating habits and becoming constipated after taking a prescription medication.

Constipation Causes

Constipation is a common problem that can be caused by a wide range of factors. It is common to experience constipation when traveling or changing your routine. For those who have busy lifestyles, constipation can occur from irregular meal times. Not exercising enough and leading a sedentary lifestyle are also causes. Drinking plenty of fluids helps with lubrication of the colon and stool, so not drinking enough can cause constipation. A diet that is low in fiber can make it difficult to pass a stool.

For many, constipation is a problem that results from emotional problems or the decision to avoid going to the bathroom. For those who try to ignore the urge to move their bowels, constipation is the natural result. This can happen when people visit an unfamiliar toilet and are uncomfortable with using it. There are a range of health conditions that can lead to constipation including an under-active thyroid, Parkinson’s disease and depression. Many medications come with constipation as a side effect. Narcotic pain relievers are a major cause of this condition. Some blood pressure medications and iron supplements are also causes.

How is Constipation Treated?

Individuals can often treat an episode of constipation at home by eating foods that are high in fiber, drinking fluids that do not contain caffeine and exercising 20 minutes every day. When individuals feel like they need to have a bowel movement, they should go to the bathroom right away. Waiting to use the bathroom can cause stools to become hard and it may be more difficult to have a bowel movement. Individuals who are constipated due to irritable bowel syndrome may be prescribed linaclotide or lubiprostone.

Severe cases of constipation may require manual removal of the fecal impaction.

Constipation Prevention

For some patients, it’s not possible to prevent constipation. But for most people, it can be prevented with a few lifestyle changes. Eating more fiber and drinking more water is often the only remedy needed for mild constipation. Consuming foods like apples and lettuce is a good idea, in order to take in enough fiber to make stools move more quickly through the bowels. For those who take medications that cause this condition, a stool softener is often recommended to avoid constipation. Staying active each day and going to the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge is also helpful. In some cases, it may be necessary to take a prescription medication to prevent constipation.

Last Reviewed:
September 19, 2016
Last Updated:
December 08, 2017
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