Symptoms & Causes of Constipation

What are the symptoms of constipation?

Symptoms of constipation may include

  • 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

When should I see a doctor?

You should see a doctor if your symptoms do not go away with self-care or you have a family history of colon or rectal cancer.

You should see a doctor right away if you have constipation and any of the following symptoms

  • bleeding from your rectum
  • blood in your stool
  • constant pain in your abdomen
  • inability to pass gas
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • lower back pain
  • losing weight without trying
Hands clutching an abdomen in pain.
You should see a doctor right away if you have constipation and constant pain in your abdomen.

What causes constipation?

You may be constipated for many reasons, and constipation may have more than one cause at a time. Causes of constipation may include

Certain medicines and dietary supplements

Medicines and dietary supplements that can make constipation worse include

Life changes or daily routine changes

Constipation can happen when your life or daily routine changes. For example, your bowel movements can change

  • if you become pregnant
  • as you get older
  • when you travel
  • when you ignore the urge to have a bowel movement
  • if you change your medicines
  • if you change how much and what you eat

Certain health and nutrition problems

Certain health and nutrition problems can cause constipation

May 2018
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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.