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Constipation — we all know what it is. And it doesn't have to mean unhealthy lifestyle. Just because someone has constipation, it doesn't have to mean a person is not healthy.

Constipation — we all know what it is. And it doesn't have indicate an unhealthy lifestyle. Just because someone has constipation, it doesn't have to mean a person is not healthy.

He or she can do everything as recommended by his or her doctor and still have the problem from time to time. 

Definition of Constipation

Constipation is a symptom, it is not a disease. Constipation refers to a decrease in the frequency of bowel movements. Constipation is difficult to define clearly because as a symptom it varies from person to person. The frequency of bowel movements namely varies greatly: from three times a day to three times a week, and this is why a general definition of constipation is hard to give.

For some people, constipation may mean difficulty in passing stools (a constipated stool is hard because it contains less water than normal), while for others constipation may mean missing passing stools for a couple of days. [1]

Constipation Symptoms

These are common symptoms you may have if you are constipated:
  • Difficulty in starting or completing a bowel movement
  • Infrequent and difficult passage of stool
  • Passing a hard stool after prolonged straining in the toilet
  • In cases of irritable bowel syndrome abdominal pain, cramps, excessive gas, a sense of bloating, and a change in bowel habits
  • A distended abdomen, headaches, and loss of appetite
  • A coated tongue, offensive breath, and bad taste in your mouth [1]

Constipation Causes

There are many possible causes of constipation. It may result from a poor diet, poor bowel habits, or problems in the elimination of stool, whether physical, functional, or voluntary.


Nutrition low in fiber, and high in fat can cause constipation. Dietary fiber provides the bulk that helps to speed the passage of waste food through the bowel. On the other hand, lack of fiber results in harder and more compact stools, which also take longer to pass through. In short, if you eat foods rich in animal fats, such as dairy products, meats, and eggs or refined sugar, but foods low in fiber, which is whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, it is very probable you will be constipated. [2]
Poor bowel habits
Some people ignore the desire to have a bowel movement, and this may initiate a cycle of constipation. Namely, after some time, they may stop feeling the desire for opening their bowel, which may lead to progressive constipation. For example, some people may avoid going to the toilet because they are busy or some people avoid using public toilets. [3]
Change in nutrition during travels and holidays 
This change often happens on holidays. Any change of routine can cause constipation or traveler's diarrhea. [4
Lack of fluids
Your daily need for fluids is 1.5-2 liters. Without that amount, waste matter dries out, which also makes stools harder to move through the bowel. Most recommended is water, and fluids you should avoid are alcohol, caffeine, and sodas. [5]
Lack of exercise
If you don't exercise often, things can slow down including the muscle contractions that move waste matter through the bowel. [6]
During pregnancy, hormonal and physical changes are probable causes. Constipation during pregnancy may be due to several factors: mechanical pressure on your bowel by the heavy womb, hormonal changes during pregnancy, changes in food and fluid intake, anal fissure (cracks in the anus), hemorrhoids (piles), anal stenosis (narrow anus). [7]
Menopause and menstruation
During menopause and menstruation, hormonal and lifestyle changes can cause constipation. [8]
Stress can cause constipation, and vice versa stress can also be a symptom of constipation. [9]
Bodily functions slow down with age, and that includes the digestive system. For example, older people are five times more likely than younger people to develop constipation. On the other hand, experts believe that older people become too concerned with having a daily bowel movement. Thus, constipation in this age group is overestimated. [10]
On the other hand, older adults are more likely to have constipation for the following reasons: 
  • Poor diet and insufficient intake of fluids
  • A lack of exercise 
  • Side effects of prescription drugs used to treat other conditions
  • Poor bowel habits 
  • Prolonged bed rest, for example after an accident or during an illness
  • Habitual use of laxatives
Some painkillers (narcotic-containing drugs, for example, codeine) are known to cause constipation, also some other medicines, such as Iron tablets and some antacids (containing aluminum hydroxide or calcium carbonate), antispasmodic drugs, antidepressants and anticonvulsant drugs. [11]
Laxative abuse
If a person habitually uses laxatives, he or she will gradually produce dependency on them, and may eventually require increasing amounts of laxatives to move bowels, and in some instances, the bowel will become insensitive to laxatives and fail to open. [12]
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common causes of constipation. People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome often have constipation, sometimes alternating with diarrhea. In irritable bowel syndrome, cramping pains, excessive gas, bloating and discomfort in the bowel and rectum are common. Lactulose is an FDA-approved for the long-term treatment of chronic constipation. [13]

Read More: Facts about Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Constipation Treatment

Although constipation may be extremely uncomfortable, it is usually not serious. Treatment of constipation is closely connected to its causes. If you don't eat enough fibers, you should start. If you don't exercise regularly, you should consider that as an option. If you're on some medications stated above, you should cut them to treat constipation, and so on and so on. In these cases, medical attention is not necessary. Nevertheless, there are times when you do need to see a doctor about constipation. [1,2]

You should seek medical attention if you have:  

  • Symptoms that are severe and last longer than 3 weeks.
  • If you feel severe pain in anus during your bowel movement. 
  • If you noticed a change in bowel habits, for instance, constipation alternating with diarrhea. 
  • If you have symptoms of other diseases, like tiredness, fatigue, etc, in addition to constipation.
  • If you have rectal bleeding, anal pain, and hemorrhoids, pain during bowel movement, vomiting, etc.
As said above, treatment depends on the cause, severity, and duration. In most cases, dietary and lifestyle changes will help relieve symptoms and help prevent constipation.