About This Condition
Constipation is a condition in which a person experiences a change in normal bowel habits, characterized by a decrease in frequency and/or passage of hard, dry stools. Constipation can also refer to difficult defecation or to sluggish action of the bowels.
The most common cause of constipation is dietary, which is discussed below. However, constipation may be a component of irritable bowel syndrome or other conditions ranging from drug side effects to physical immobility. Serious diseases, including colon cancer, may sometimes first appear as bowel blockage leading to acute constipation. However, constipation itself does not appear to increase the risk of colon cancer, contrary to popular opinion.1
Although dietary and other natural approaches discussed below are often effective, individuals with constipation should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out potentially serious causes.
Symptoms of constipation include infrequent stools, hard stools, and excessive straining to move the bowels. Frequency of bowel movements and severity of symptoms may vary from person to person.
Healthcare practitioners often recommend increased dietary fiber and fluid intake to shorten bowel transit time and increase stool weight. Use of laxatives beyond one week is discouraged, due to weakening of the colon and fluid retention. Laxative abuse is common in the elderly and among people with eating disorders.