- Not enough fluid intake
- Overuse of laxative medications
- Too little exercise
- Lengthy bed rest
Certain medications, including:
- Pain relievers
- Aluminum-containing antacids
- Antidepressant and antipsychotic medicines
- Medications for epilepsy and Parkinson's disease
- Antispasmodic medications
- Iron supplements
- Calcium channel blockers
- Frequently delaying the need to have a bowel movement
- Spasm of the anal sphincter; due to painful anal fissures or hemorrhoids
- Underactive thyroid
- Irritable bowel syndrome—periods of constipation may alternate with episodes of diarrhea
- Neurological diseases such as:
Intestinal disorders, including:
- Travel due to schedule changes, stress, and poor diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Prolonged bed rest due to surgery or an accident
- Diet that is high in fat and sugar and low in fiber
- Abdominal pain
- Sensation of abdominal fullness
- Rectal pain and pressure
- Difficulty passing stool, despite straining
- Hard, dry, small stool
- Sensation of retained stool after defecating
When Should I Call My Doctor?
- Have constipation that lasts longer than 2-3 weeks
- Have a painful or swollen abdomen
- Have nausea or vomiting
- Have signs of an infection, such as fever or chills
- Have pain or burning in anal area with or without bowel movement
- Have blood in your stool or black stool
- Think that your prescription medication is causing constipation
- Are losing weight
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Understanding Normal Bowel Movements
Making Lifestyle Changes
Taking Laxatives, Stool Softeners, or Glycerin Suppositories
- Polyethylene glycol 3350—a type of laxative
- Psyllium—a bulk laxative
- Docusate—a stool softener
- Lactulose—a type of laxative
- Lubiprostone—a medication that increases fluid in stool
- Botulism injections—may be used to treat certain types of constipation
Retraining Your Bowels
Treating Underlying Conditions
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that is high in fiber.
- Exercise regularly.
- Drink plenty of water a day.
- In an effort to train your bowels, schedule a time daily to sit on the toilet just after a meal.
- Do not rush yourself when using the bathroom.
- If you feel the urge to move your bowels, do not ignore this feeling. Go to the bathroom right away.
American Gastroenterological Association http://www.gastro.org
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases http://www.niddk.nih.gov
Camilleri M, Kerstens R, Rykx A, Vandeplassche L. A placebo-controlled trial of prucalopride for severe chronic constipation. N Engl J Med. 2008;358(22):2344-2354.
Constipation. AGA Patient Center, American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/constipation. Updated January 2013. Accessed December 12, 2013.
Constipation. American Academy of Family Physicians' Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/constipation.printerview.all.html. Updated October 17, 2012. Accessed December 12, 2013.
Constipation. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/constipation. Updated September 18, 2013. Accessed September 18, 2013.
Treatment of constipation. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders website. Available at: http://www.aboutconstipation.org/site/about-constipation/treatment. Updated November 22, 2013. Accessed December 12, 2013.
What I need to know about constipation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/constipation%5Fez. Published September 11, 2013. Accessed December 12, 2013.
6/25/2008 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Thomas J, Karver S, Cooney GA, et al. Methylnaltrexone for opioid-induced constipation in advanced illness. N Engl J Med. 2008;358:2332-2343.
11/30/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Arebi N, Kalli T, Howson W, Clark S, Norton C. Systematic review of abdominal surgery for chronic idiopathic constipation. Colorectal Dis. 2010 Oct 22. [Epub ahead of print]
6/20/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Attaluri A, Donahoe R, Valestin J, Brown K, Rao SS. Randomised clinical trial: dried plums (prunes) vs. psyllium for constipation. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2011;33(7):822-828.
- Reviewer: Peter Lucas, MD
- Review Date: 12/2013 -
- Update Date: 12/12/2013 -