Definition & Facts for Constipation

What is constipation?

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
  • a feeling that not all stool has passed

However, people can have different bowel movement patterns, and only you know what’s normal for you.

Constipation is not a disease, but may be a symptom of another medical problem. Constipation may last for a short or long time.

A pregnant woman and man walk on a path.
Constipation is not a disease, but may be a symptom of another medical problem.

How common is constipation?

Constipation is common among all ages and populations in the United States. About 16 out of 100 adults have symptoms of constipation. About 33 out of 100 adults ages 60 and older have symptoms of constipation.1

Who is more likely to become constipated?

Certain people are more likely to become constipated, including2

  • women, especially during pregnancy or after giving birth
  • older adults
  • non-Caucasians
  • people who eat little to no fiber
  • people who take certain medicines or dietary supplements
  • people with certain health problems, including functional gastrointestinal disorders
    • What are the complications of constipation?

      People who have constipation that lasts for a short time usually do not have complications. However, long-lasting constipation may have complications, including


May 2018

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.