Constipation

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Definition & Facts

Constipation is a condition in which you may have fewer than three bowel movements a week; stools that are hard, dry, or lumpy; stools that are difficult or painful to pass; or a feeling that not all stool has passed. You usually can take steps to prevent or relieve constipation.

Symptoms & Causes

If your constipation does not go away with self-care or if you have long-term constipation, speak with a doctor. You should see a doctor if you have constipation and either bleeding from your rectum, blood in your stool, continual pain in your abdomen, or another sign of a medical problem.

Diagnosis

Your doctor may use information from your medical and family history, a physical exam, or tests to find the cause of your constipation. If you’ve had constipation for a long time, your doctor may ask whether anyone in your family has a history of conditions that cause long-lasting constipation.

Treatment

Your health care professional may tell you that you may be able to treat your constipation or prevent it by making changes to what you eat and drink, being more active, or taking over-the-counter medicines. If these treatments don’t work, he or she may prescribe a medicine or suggest biofeedback or surgery.

Eating, Diet, & Nutrition

Get enough fiber in your diet to help prevent and treat constipation. Talk with your health care professional to plan a diet with the right amount of fiber for you. Be sure to add fiber to your diet a little at a time so your body gets used to the change.

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank Brian E. Lacy, Ph.D., M.D., Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida