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What is constipation?
Having constipation means that you have a bowel movement fewer than 3 times a week. The bowel movements are usually hard, dry, and small.

How does it occur?
You may have constipation because:

  • You ignore the urge and wait too long to have bowel movements.
  • You do not drink enough fluids.
  • You overuse some types of laxatives.
  • You do not eat enough fiber.
  • You don't have enough physical activity.
  • You are taking iron pills or a medicine that has a side effect of constipation

Other possible causes are:

  • pregnancy
  • depression or stress
  • some medical conditions and diseases

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include having:

  • small bowel movements
  • hard, dry bowel movements
  • uncomfortable or painful bowel movements that are hard to pass
  • a longer time than usual between bowel movements
  • bloating and feeling like you have a full bowel

Normal bowel movements vary from person to person. For some people, 3 times a day is normal. For others 3 times a week may be normal. What's important is whether there is a change in what has been normal for you.

How is it treated?
To ease your constipation:

  • Drink more fluids.
  • Add more fiber to your diet, such as bran muffins, graham crackers, oatmeal, brown rice, or whole wheat bread, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Increase your physical activity.
  • Do not delay bowel movements. Make sure that you go to the bathroom whenever you feel that you need to go.

Laxatives may be used for a short time, generally less than 1 week. Many people find fiber supplements, such as Metamucil, Citrucel, or other psyllium products, to be helpful, but sometimes they can make constipation worse.

Ask your health care provider if any medicines you are taking may be causing constipation.

Tell your health care provider if:

  • You start having constipation after years of normal bowel movements.
  • You have bouts of constipation alternating with bouts of diarrhea.
  • You have pain during bowel movements or for some time afterward.
  • Your bowel movements are dark or tar-colored or have blood in them.
  • You are losing weight without trying.

How can I take care of myself?
To help take care of yourself:

  • Eat fresh vegetables and fruit every day.
  • Exercise regularly. For example, if you are able, walk for at least 30 minutes every day.
  • Check with your health care provider before adding any new exercise.
  • Drink prune juice or eat stewed fruits at breakfast.
  • Drink plenty of fluids unless your provider has restricted your fluids.
  • Increase the whole-grain fiber in your diet by eating cereals with 5 or more grams of fiber per serving (for example, shredded wheat or bran flakes).
  • Ask your health care provider about taking fiber products or laxatives or giving yourself an enema. You can take a fiber product like Metamucil or Citrucel once or twice a day for several days if you are constipated. Avoid overusing other laxatives, such as cathartics, which are products that will cause a liquid bowel movement. Cathartics, including Milk of Magnesia or Epsom salt, irritate the lining of the intestines.
  • Call your provider if:
    • Constipation lasts longer than 1 week.
    • You have severe abdominal pain.
    • You have abdominal swelling or vomiting.
    • You have a fever higher than 101.5° F (38.6° C).
    • You have any symptoms that worry you.