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Constipation is a very common condition which occurs when bowel movements become difficult or infrequent.

It could be very difficult to tell what exactly normal bowel movement is, because the length of time between bowel movements ranges widely from person to person. However, experts agree that going longer than three days without a bowel movement is too long and could cause problems, because the stool becomes harder and more difficult to pass. In this case people often decide to use laxatives, medications that help increase the frequency of bowel movements. In most cases they are extremely useful, but not without side effects, some of which can even be life-threatening, and require urgent medical intervention.

Diagnostic criteria

If you have two or more of the following for at least 3 months, you are considered constipated.

  • Incomplete evacuation more than 25% of the time or the sensation of incomplete bowel evacuation.
  • Straining during bowel movement more than 25% of the time spent in toilet
  • Two or even less bowel movements in a week
  • Hard stools more than 25% of the time

Incidence

This condition is most common in children and older people, and affects women more than men. One in 200 women has severe, continuous constipation, which is considered to be a serious health risk. Pregnancy is a period when constipation problems usually begin. 
More than 6 million people in the UK have problems with constipation. In most cases, constipation isn't the only problem; patients also suffer from hemorrhoids or anal fissures.

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