Constipation: Overview

Constipation is difficulty with bowel movements such as due to hard stool. Constipation does not only refer to the total absence of stool, but also includes abnormally small stool, straining with bowel movements, infrequent bowel movements, or other bowel difficulty. Causes may include dehydration, fecal impaction, and various gastrointestinal disorders. Simple cases of occasional constipation are quite common, but it is also possible to have chronic constipation, which can cause weight loss and other lifestyle issues. Although not common, there are some life-threatening causes of constipation. Surprisingly, constipation may also cause diarrhea (or fecal incontinence) as fluid leaks around a blockage, so both constipation and diarrhea can occur together.

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Constipation can lead to large, hard stools that stretch the rectum and cause the internal sphincter muscles to relax by reflex. Watery stool builds up behind the hard stool and may leak out around the hard stool, leading to fecal incontinence.

The type of constipation that is most likely to lead to fecal incontinence occurs when people are unable to relax their external sphincter and pelvic floor muscles when straining to have a bowel movement, often mistakenly squeezing these muscles instead of relaxing them. This squeezing makes it difficult to pass stool and may lead to a large amount of stool in the rectum. This type of constipation, called dyssynergic defecation or disordered defecation, is a result of faulty learning. For example, children or adults who have pain when having a bowel movement may unconsciously learn to squeeze their muscles to delay the bowel movement and avoid pain.

Source: NIDDK (NIH)1

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Constipation is a condition in which you have fewer than three bowel movements a week, or hard, dry and small bowel movements that are painful or difficult to pass.?

The most common symptoms of constipation are fewer than-normal bowel movements, stool that is difficult or painful to pass, and pain or bloating in your abdomen.?

To find out why you're constipated, your doctor will take your medical history and perform a physical exam. He or she may also order certain tests.?

Treatments for constipation include malking changes in your eating, diet, and nutrition; exercise and lifestyle changes; medicines and supplements; biofeedback; and surgery.?

Your eating and diet may affect your chances of becoming constipated. If your diet has too little fiber, you may get constipated.?

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support basic and clinical research into many digestive disorders.??

Source: NIDDK (NIH)2

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Constipation is a condition in which you typically have:

  • fewer than three bowel movements a week
  • bowel movements with stools that are hard, dry, and small, making them painful or difficult to pass

Some people think they are constipated if they donít have a bowel movement every day. However, people can have different bowel movement patterns. Some people may have three bowel movements a day. Other people may only have three bowel movements a week.

Constipation most often lasts for only a short time and is not dangerous. You can take steps to prevent or relieve constipation.

How common is constipation?

Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal (GI) problems, affecting about 42 million people in the United States.

Source: NIDDK (NIH)3

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Constipation is one of the most common health complaints, affecting up to 20% of the population. It is the reduced frequency of bowel movements requiring excessive straining at defacation in order to pass the stool.

Source: Queensland Health4

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Constipation is when your bowel motions ("poosí) are hard. They may be knobbly and difficult to get out. It is a common problem.

Normally people have between 1 and 3 soft, easy motions each day to 1 every other day.

If you or a family member has constipation, it can be caused by a number of factors, most common of which include not getting enough fluid or fibre in your diet.

Constipation may also be a symptom of a more serious problem, like bowel cancer.

Source: New Zealand Health5

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Learn about causes of constipation, constipation in children and pregnancy, and preventing constipation.

Source: New Zealand Health6

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Constipation is common and it affects people of all ages. You can usually treat it at home with simple changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Source: NHS Choices UK7

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Constipation means that a person has three or fewer bowel movements in a week. The stool can be hard and dry. Sometimes it is painful to pass. At one time or another, almost everyone gets constipated. In most cases, it lasts a short time and is not serious.

There are many things you can do to prevent constipation. They include

  • Eating more fruits, vegetables and grains, which are high in fiber
  • Drinking plenty of water and other liquids
  • Getting enough exercise
  • Taking time to have a bowel movement when you need to
  • Using laxatives only if your doctor says you should
  • Asking your doctor if medicines you take may cause constipation

It's not important that you have a bowel movement every day. If your bowel habits change, however, check with your doctor.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Source: MedLinePlus (NIH)8

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Constipation: Irregular and infrequent or difficult evacuation of the bowels.9

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Constipation: Infrequent or difficult evacuation of Feces. These symptoms are associated with a variety of causes, including low Dietary Fiber intake, emotional or nervous disturbances, systemic and structural disorders, drug-induced aggravation, and infections.10

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Constipation: Infrequent or difficult evacuation of feces.11

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Constipation: A bowel dysfunction that is characterized by infrequent or difficult evacuation of feces.12

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Constipation: A bowel dysfunction that is characterized by infrequent or difficult evacuation of feces.13

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Constipation is a feces and droppings symptom involving the abnormally delayed or infrequent passage of dry hardened feces.14

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Constipation: An abnormal defecation adverse event that has an outcome of constipation, which is incomplete, infrequent or difficult evacuation of fecal matter15

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  1. Source: NIDDK (NIH): health-information/ health-topics/ digestive-diseases/ fecal-incontinence/ Pages/ facts.aspx
  2. Source: NIDDK (NIH): health-information/ health-topics/ digestive-diseases/ constipation/ Pages/ overview.aspx
  3. Source: NIDDK (NIH): health-information/ health-topics/ digestive-diseases/ constipation/ Pages/ all-content.aspx
  4. Source: Queensland Health: HealthCondition/ condition/ 9/ 46/ 31/ constipation
  5. Source: New Zealand Health: your-health/ conditions-and-treatments/ diseases-and-illnesses/ constipation
  6. Source: New Zealand Health: your-health/ conditions-and-treatments/ diseases-and-illnesses
  7. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ Constipation/ 
  8. Source: MedLinePlus (NIH): constipation.html
  9. Source: NCI Thesaurus
  10. Source: MeSH (U.S. National Library of Medicine)
  11. Source: Human Phenotype Ontology
  12. Source: Disease Ontology
  13. Source: Monarch Initiative
  14. Source: SYMP Ontology
  15. Source: OAE Ontology

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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.