Clinical Features of Constipation

Some people think they are constipated if they don’t 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.

Source: NIDDK (NIH)1

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Back to: « Constipation

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What are the symptoms of constipation?

The most common symptoms of constipation are

  • fewer-than-normal bowel movements
  • stool that is difficult or painful to pass
  • pain or bloating in your abdomen

Source: NIDDK (NIH)2

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The frequency of passing bowel motions varies greatly between individuals and as such, there is no 'normal' number of bowel movements that should be passed.

  • Reduced frequency - in general, less than three bowel motions per week is considered abnormal.
  • Straining at defacation
  • Passage of small, hard stools
  • Feeling of incomplete emptying of the bowel (incomplete evacuation)
  • Passage of liquid stool (overflow diarrhoea)
  • Pain in the anus or abdomen
  • Abdominal bloating

Source: Queensland Health3

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Constipation is a symptom, not a disease. You may be constipated if you are having fewer bowel movements than usual, it takes a long time to pass stools, and the stools are hard.

Source: NIA (NIH)4

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Constipation in young children

Children with constipation will usually pass hard poos, like sheep pellets, and this will often be painful.

They may "hold on’, cross legs, run around or refuse to go to the toilet because it is painful to pass a hard "poo’. This results in further drying out of the "poo’ as it sits in your child’s bowel, resulting in a vicious cycle.

They may also have a tummy pain that comes and goes.

Sometimes chronic constipation in children can lead to "overflow’ of loose poos which looks like diarrhoea.

Constipation in children that is persistent will usually require assessment by your family doctor and over-the-counter laxatives should be avoided.

If you have questions about your child’s bowel motions, call PlunketLine on 0800 933 922.

Source: New Zealand Health5

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Check if it's constipation

It’s likely to be constipation if:

  • you or your child haven't had a poo at least 3 times in a week
  • the poo is often difficult to push out and larger than usual
  • the poo is often dry, hard or lumpy

However, it's not unusual for a breastfeeding baby to go a week without having a poo.

You may also have a stomach ache and feel bloated or sick.

Things to look out for in babies and toddlers include:

Source: NHS Choices UK6

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  1. Source: NIDDK (NIH): health-information/ digestive-diseases/ constipation/ all-content
  2. ibid.
  3. Source: Queensland Health: HealthCondition/ condition/ 9/ 46/ 31/ constipation
  4. Source: NIA (NIH): health/ concerned-about-constipation
  5. Source: New Zealand Health: your-health/ conditions-and-treatments/ diseases-and-illnesses/ constipation
  6. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ Constipation/ 

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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.