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.
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
You may want to track your bowel movements and what your stools look like for several days or weeks before your doctor’s visit. Write down or record the information so you can share it with your doctor.
If you’ve been constipated a long time, your health care professional may ask whether anyone in your family has a history of conditions that may cause long-lasting constipation, such as
During these two tests, your doctor may also perform a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure that involves taking small pieces of tissue and examining them under a microscope. A doctor can use a biopsy to look for signs of cancer or other problems.
Colorectal transit studies
Your doctor may use bowel function tests called colorectal transit studies to see how well your stool moves through your colon.
Radiopaque markers—an x-ray that tracks radioactive markers while they pass through your digestive system. You swallow capsules with the markers, which take about 3 to 7 days to come out with a bowel movement.
Scintigraphy—a test that involves eating a meal with a small dose of a radioactive substance. Your doctor tracks the substance using special computers and cameras as the substance passes through your intestines.
Other bowel function tests
Your doctor may also use one or more of the following tests to look for signs of certain diseases and conditions that may be causing your constipation
defecography—an x-ray of the area around the anus and rectum to see how well you can hold and release stool
anorectal manometry—a test to check how sensitive your rectum is, how well it works, and how well the anal sphincters work
balloon expulsion test—a test that involves pushing a small water balloon from your rectum to see if you have a problem pushing out stool
To look for other problems that may be causing your constipation, your doctor may perform an imaging test such as
Your doctor may suggest that you try to train yourself to have a bowel movement at the same time each day to help you become more regular. For example, trying to have a bowel movement 15 to 45 minutes after breakfast may help, because eating helps your colon move stool.
Make sure you give yourself enough time to have a bowel movement, and use the bathroom as soon as you feel the need to go. Try to relax your muscles or put your feet on a footstool to make yourself more comfortable.
Stop taking certain medicines or dietary supplements
If you think certain medicines or dietary supplements are causing your constipation, talk with your doctor. He or she may change the dose or suggest a different medicine that does not cause constipation. Don’t change or stop any medicine or supplement without talking with a health care professional.
Take over-the-counter medicines
Your health care professional may recommend using a laxative for a short time. He or she will tell you what type of laxative is best for you
You should only use stimulants if your constipation is severe or other treatments have not worked.
If you’ve been taking laxatives for a long time and can’t have a bowel movement without taking a laxative, talk with your doctor about how you can slowly stop using them. If you stop taking laxatives, over time, your colon should start moving stool normally.
How do doctors treat constipation?
If self-care treatments don’t work, your doctor may prescribe a medicine to treat your constipation. If you’re taking an over-the-counter or prescription medicine or supplement that can cause constipation, your doctor may suggest you stop taking it, change the dose, or switch to a different one. Talk with your doctor before changing or stopping any medicines.
Your doctor may prescribe one of the following medicines for constipation
lubiprostone—a medicine prescribed to increase fluid in your digestive tract, which can help reduce pain in your abdomen, make your stool softer, and increase how often you have bowel movements
prucalopride—a medicine that helps your colon move stool if you have long-lasting constipation without a known cause
If you have problems with the muscles that control bowel movements, your doctor may recommend biofeedback therapy to retrain your muscles. By using biofeedback therapy, you can change how you make your muscles work.
Your doctor may recommend surgery to treat an anorectal blockage caused by rectal prolapse if other treatments don’t work. Your doctor may perform surgery to remove your colon if your colon muscles don’t work correctly. If your doctor recommends surgery, ask about the benefits and risks.
How can I prevent constipation?
You can help prevent constipation by doing some of the same things that treat constipation
get enough fiber in your diet
drink plenty of water and other liquids
get regular physical activity
try to have a bowel movement at the same time every day
whole grains, such as whole wheat bread and pasta, oatmeal, and bran flake cereals
legumes, such as lentils, black beans, kidney beans, soybeans, and chickpeas
fruits, such as berries, apples with the skin on, oranges, and pears
vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, green peas, and collard greens
nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, and pecans
Plenty of water
You should drink water and other liquids, such as naturally sweetened fruit and vegetable juices and clear soups, to help the fiber work better. This change should make your stools softer and easier to pass.
Drinking enough water and other liquids is also a good way to avoid dehydration. Staying hydrated is good for your overall health and can help you avoid getting constipated. Ask a health care professional how much liquid you should drink each day based on your size, health, activity level, and where you live.
What should I avoid eating or drinking if I’m constipated?
To help prevent or relieve constipation, avoid foods with little to no fiber, such as
prepared foods, such as some frozen meals and snack foods
processed foods, such as hot dogs or some microwavable dinners
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Watch a video of NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers explaining the importance of participating in clinical trials.
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