Definition and Facts

Constipation is a condition in which you may have fewer than three bowel movements a week; stools that are hard, dry, or lumpy; stools that are difficult or painful to pass; or a feeling that not all stool has passed. You usually can take steps to prevent or relieve constipation. It is common among all ages and populations in the United States. About 16 out of 100 adults have symptoms of constipation. About 33 out of 100 adults ages 60 and older have symptoms of constipation.


  • fewer than three bowel movements a week
  • stools that are hard, dry, or lumpy
  • stools that are difficult or painful to pass
  • a feeling that not all stool has passed
  • abdominal discomfort or bloating


You may be constipated for many reasons, and constipation may have more than one cause at a time. Causes of constipation may include:

  • slow movement of stool through your colon
  • delayed emptying of the colon from pelvic floor disorders especially in women, and colon surgery
  • functional gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome
  • Certain health and nutrition problems can cause constipation
  • not eating enough fiber
  • not drinking enough liquids, or dehydration
  • not getting enough physical activity
  • celiac disease
  • conditions that affect your metabolism
  • conditions that affect your hormones
  • inflammation linked to diverticular disease or proctitis
  • intestinal obstructions, including anorectal blockage and tumors
  • anatomic problems of your digestive tract


Your health care professional may tell you that you may be able to treat your constipation or prevent it by making changes to what you eat by increasing fiber intake, stay hydrated, being more active, or taking over-the-counter medicines.

Eating, Diet and Nutrition

Get enough fiber in your diet to help prevent and treat constipation. Talk with your health care professional to plan a diet with the right amount of fiber for you. Be sure to add fiber to your diet a little at a time so your body gets used to the change.


Kumkum Patel MD, MPH

Board-certified Gastroenterologist.
IBS and Motility Specialist

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