by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Constipation is infrequent and/or uncomfortable bowel movements. Stool is often hard and dry. This is a very common gastrointestinal complaint.
Constipation has many causes, including:
Risk Factors TOP
Risk factors include:
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Call your doctor if you:
Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation, may indicate a more serious condition. Your doctor may order tests to rule out other conditions. Tests may include:
Treatment may include:
Understanding Normal Bowel Movements
Talk to your doctor about what is a normal frequency of bowel movements for you. The range of normal is quite broad. Some people have several stools a day. Others have one stool every several days.
Making Lifestyle Changes
Taking Laxatives, Stool Softeners, or Glycerin Suppositories
Regularly using laxatives or enemas can be habit forming. Your bowels can become accustomed to these products and require them in order to produce a stool. Stool softeners, though, are not habit-forming. Ask your doctor about how often and for how long to use these products.
Examples of medicines include:
Retraining Your Bowels
Set aside the same time each day to move your bowels. Typically, this works best after breakfast and coffee. Sit on the toilet for 15-20 minutes. Over time, your body will learn to have regular bowel movements at the same time each day.
Biofeedback works by attaching sensors to the body. These sensors give you information about your muscles. By working with a therapist, you learn how to control certain muscles that can help you to move your bowels.
Treating Underlying Conditions
Work with your doctor to treat other conditions that may be causing your constipation.
If you are taking medicine that causes constipation, talk to your doctor to find out if you can take another drug.
If you are taking opioids to relieve pain, you may have constipation. A medicine called methylnaltrexone (Relistor) may help to reduce this side effect.
If you have severe, chronic constipation, your doctor may recommend surgery.
If you are diagnosed with constipation, follow your doctor's instructions.
To reduce your chance of getting constipation:
American Gastroenterological Association
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
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Last reviewed October 2012 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Last Updated: 10/31/2012