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Constipation is an acute or chronic condition in which bowel movements occur less often than usual or consist of hard, dry stools that are painful or difficult to pass. Bowel habits vary, but an adult who has not had a bowel movement in three days or a child who has not had a bowel movement in four days is considered constipated.


Constipation is one of the most common medical complaints in the United States. Constipation can occur at any age, and is more common among individuals who resist the urge to move their bowels at their body's signal. This often happens when children start school or enter daycare and feel shy about asking permission to use the bathroom.
Constipation is more common in women than in men and is especially apt to occur during pregnancy. Age alone does not increase the frequency of constipation, but elderly people (especially women) are more likely to suffer from constipation.
Although this condition is rarely serious, it can lead to:
  • bowel obstruction
  • chronic constipation
  • hemorrhoids (a mass of dilated veins in swollen tissue around the anus)
  • hernia (a protrusion of an organ through a tear in the muscle wall)
  • spastic colitis (irritable bowel syndrome, a condition characterized by alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation)
  • laxative dependency
Chronic constipation may be a symptom of colorectal cancer, depression, diabetes, diverticulosis (small pouches in the muscles of the large intestine), lead poisoning, or Parkinson's disease.
In someone who is elderly or disabled, constipation may be a symptom of bowel impaction, a more serious condition in which feces are trapped in the lower part of the large intestine. A doctor should be called if an elderly or disabled person is constipated for a week or more or if a child seems to be constipated.
A doctor should be notified whenever constipation occurs after starting a new prescription, vitamin, or mineral supplement or is accompanied by blood in the stools, changes in bowel patterns, or fever and abdominal pain.

Causes and symptoms

Constipation usually results from not getting enough exercise, not drinking enough water, or from a diet that does not include an adequate amount of fiber-rich foods like beans, bran cereals, fruits, raw vegetables, rice, and whole-grain breads.
Other causes of constipation include anal fissure (a tear or crack in the lining of the anus); chronic kidney failure; colon or rectal cancer; depression; hypercalcemia (abnormally high levels of calcium in the blood); hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland); illness requiring complete bed rest; irritable bowel syndrome; and stress.
Constipation can also be a side effect of:
  • aluminum salts in antacids
  • antihistamines
  • antipsychotic drugs
  • aspirin
  • belladonna (Atopa belladonna, source of atropine, a medication used to relieve spasms and dilate the pupils of the eye)
  • beta blockers (medications used to stabilize irregular heartbeat, lower high blood pressure, reduce chest pain)
  • blood pressure medications
  • calcium channel blockers (medication prescribed to treat high blood pressure, chest pain, some types of irregular heartbeat and stroke, and some non-cardiac diseases)
  • diuretics (drugs that promote the formation and secretion of urine)
  • iron or calcium supplements
  • narcotics (potentially addictive drugs that relieve pain and cause mood changes)
  • tricyclic antidepressants (medications prescribed to treat chronic pain, depression, headaches, and other illnesses)
An adult who is constipated may feel bloated, have a headache, swollen abdomen, or pass rock-like feces; or strain, bleed, or feel pain during bowel movements. A constipated baby may strain, cry, draw the legs toward the abdomen, or arch the back when having a bowel movement.


Everyone becomes constipated once in a while, but a doctor should be notified if significant changes in bowel patterns last for more than a week or if symptoms continue more than three weeks after increasing activity and fiber and fluid intake.
The patient's observations and medical history help a primary care physician diagnose constipation. The doctor uses his fingers to see if there is a hardened mass in the abdomen, and may perform a rectal examination. Other diagnostic procedures include a barium enema, which reveals blockage inside the intestine; laboratory analysis of blood and stool samples for internal bleeding or other symptoms of systemic disease; and a sigmoidoscopy (examination of the sigmoid area of the colon with a flexible tube equipped with a magnifying lens).
Physical and psychological assessments and a detailed history of bowel habits are especially important when an elderly person complains of constipation.


If changes in diet and activity fail to relieve occasional constipation, an over-the-counter laxative may be used for a few days. Preparations that soften stools or add bulk (bran, psyllium) work more slowly but are safer than Epsom salts and other harsh laxatives or herbal laxatives containing senna (Cassia senna) or buckthorn (Rhamnus purshianna), which can harm the nerves and lining of the colon.
A woman who is pregnant should never use a laxative. Neither should anyone who is experiencing abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting.
A warm-water or mineral oil enema can relieve constipation, and a non-digestible sugar (lactulose) or special electrolyte solution is recommended for adults and older children with stubborn symptoms.
If a patient has an impacted bowel, the doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum and gently dislodges the hardened feces.

Alternative treatment

Initially, alternative practitioners will suggest that the patient drink an adequate amount of water each day (six to eight glasses), exercise on a regular basis, and eat a diet high in soluble and insoluble fibers. Soluble fibers include pectin, flax, and gums; insoluble fibers include psyllium and brans from grains like wheat and oats. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain both soluble and insoluble fibers. Castor oil, applied topically to the abdomen and covered by a heat source (a heating pad or hot water bottle), can help relieve constipation when used nightly for 20-30 minutes.


This needleless form of acupuncture is said to relax the abdomen, ease discomfort, and stimulate regular bowel movements when diet and exercise fail to do so. After lying down, the patient closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. For two minutes, he applies gentle fingertip pressure to a point about two and one-half inches below the navel.
Accupressure can also be applied to the outer edges of one elbow crease and maintained for 30 seconds before pressing the crease of the other elbow. This should be done three times a day to relieve constipation.


Six drops of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and six drops of thyme (Thymus spp.) diluted by 1 oz of almond oil, olive oil, or another carrier oil can relieve constipation when used to massage the abdomen.

Herbal therapy

A variety of herbal therapies can be useful in the treatment of constipation. Several herbs, including chamomile (Matricaria recutita), dandelion (Taraxacum mongolicum), and burdock (Arctium lappa), act as bitters, stimulating the movement of the digestive and excretory systems. There are also "laxative" herbs that assist with bowel movement. Two of these are senna (Cassia senna) and buckthorn (Rhamnus purshiana). These "laxative" herbs are stronger acting on elimination than bitters and can sometimes cause cramping (mixing them with a calming herb like fennel or caraway can help reduce cramping). Both senna and buckthorn are powerful herbs that are best used with direction from an experienced practitioner, since they can have adverse side effects and the patient may become dependent on them.


Homeopathy also can offer assistance with constipation. There are acute remedies for constipation that can be found in one of the many home remedy books on homeopathic medicine. A constitutional prescription also can help rebalance someone who is struggling with constipation.


Massaging the leg from knee to hip in the morning, at night, and before trying to move the bowels is said to relieve constipation. There is also a specific Swedish massage technique that can help relieve constipation.


The knee-chest position, said to relieve gas and stimulate abdominal organs, involves:
  • standing straight with arms at the sides
  • lifting the right knee toward the chest
  • grasping the right ankle with the left hand
  • pulling the leg as close to the chest as possible
  • holding the position for about eight seconds
  • repeating these steps with the left leg
Constipation is an acute or chronic condition in which bowel movements occur less often than usual or consist of hard, dry stools that are painful or difficult to pass.
Constipation is an acute or chronic condition in which bowel movements occur less often than usual or consist of hard, dry stools that are painful or difficult to pass.
(Illustration by Electronic Illustrators Group).
The cobra position, which can be repeated as many as four time a day, involves:
  • lying on the stomach with legs together
  • placing the palms just below the shoulders, holding elbows close to the body
  • inhaling, then lifting the head (face forward) and chest off the floor
  • keeping the navel in contact with the floor
  • looking as far upward as possible
  • holding this position for three to six seconds
  • exhaling and lowering the chest


Changes in diet and exercise usually eliminate the problem.


Most Americans consume between 11-18 grams of fiber a day. Consumption of 30 grams of fiber and between six and eight glasses of water each day can generally prevent constipation.
Thirty-five grams of fiber a day (an amount equal to five servings of fruits and vegetables, and a large bowl of high-fiber cereal) can relieve constipation.
Daily use of 500 mg vitamin C and 400 mg magnesium can prevent constipation. If symptoms do occur, each dosage can be increased by 100 mg a day, up to a maximum of 5,000 mg vitamin C and 1,000 mg magnesium. Use of preventive doses should be resumed after relief occurs, and vitamin C should be decreased to the pre-diarrhea dosage if the patient develops diarrhea.
Sitting on the toilet for 10 minutes at the same time every day, preferably after a meal, can induce regular bowel movements. This may not become effective for a few months, and it is important to defecate whenever necessary.
Fiber supplements containing psyllium (Plantago psyllium) usually become effective within about 48 hours and can be used every day without causing dependency. Powdered flaxseed (Linium usitatissimum) works the same way. Insoluble fiber, like wheat or oat bran, is as effective as psyllium but may give the patient gas at first.



"Constipation." ThriveOnline. March 15, 1998.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a change in normal bowel habits with decreased frequency of defecation or passage of hard dry feces.
2. a nursing diagnosis accepted by the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association, defined as a decrease in frequency of defecation or passage of hard, dry feces.

Although many persons may experience a sense of incomplete evacuation of the colon and become concerned when daily bowel movements do not occur, the frequency of defecation can vary according to individual characteristics such as body build, level of physical activity, dietary habits, and custom. Constipation can be said to exist when a person reports a frequency of bowel elimination that is less than his or her usual pattern or when defecation occurs less than three times a week, stools are hard and well-formed and possibly less than the usual amount, straining at stool occurs regularly, and the person experiences headache, abdominal pain, a feeling of fullness in the abdomen or rectum, and either diminished appetite or nausea. Objective signs of constipation include discovery of a palpable mass in the abdomen and decreased bowel sounds.
Etiology. Constipation can result from a variety of causes. Such habits of daily living as lack of exercise, insufficient intake of water and dietary bulk, and chronic use of laxatives and enemas can contribute to the development of constipation. Other etiologic factors include neurologic, metabolic, and endocrine disorders such as stroke, spinal cord injury, and hypothyroidism; pain on defecation; decreased peristalsis related to aging or cardiopulmonary hypoxia; and the side-effects of some drugs.
Patient Care. Unless there is a demonstrable organic disorder causing constipation, regular bowel elimination is largely a matter of habit. Stress, tension, failure to take the time to defecate when the urge is felt, and insufficient fluid intake can all contribute to the problem. Among the goals of intervention are encouraging regular bowel function by adhering to healthful habits of diet and exercise, and developing an awareness of the need to establish a regular routine of elimination. For some people this may mean a change in lifestyle that entails addition of dietary fiber and regular physical exercise. For others it may be necessary to develop a more rational approach to the problem. Excessive concern over constipation and frequent use of laxatives can be as harmful as deliberately ignoring the need for regular elimination.

For those patients who have constipation related to an organic disease, a bowel training program may be appropriate.
perceived constipation a nursing diagnosis accepted by the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association, defined as the making by an individual of a self-diagnosis of constipation, and abuse of laxatives, enemas, and suppositories to ensure a daily bowel movement.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


A condition in which bowel movements are infrequent or incomplete.
Synonym(s): costiveness
[L. con-stipo, pp. -atus, to press together]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


Difficult, incomplete, or infrequent evacuation of dry hardened feces from the bowels.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


GI disease Infrequent and/or incomplete evacuation of stool Etiology IBS, diverticulosis, medications–eg overuse of laxatives, colorectal CA Diagnosis Barium enema, endoscopy and Bx Management Bulk laxatives, high-fiber diets. Cf Diarrhea.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A condition in which bowel movements are infrequent or incomplete.
[L. con-stipo, pp. -atus, to press together]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


Unduly infrequent and difficult evacuation of the bowels. This disorder is often due to deliberate suppression of the desire to defaecate. It is almost unknown in people whose diet is largely vegetable with a high fibre content.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005


A condition in which bowel movements are infrequent or incomplete.
[L. con-stipo, pp. -atus, to press together]
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012

Patient discussion about constipation

Q. treatment for constipation

A. you can also try colace,its an over the counter product

Q. How Do You Treat Constipation? I have been suffering from constipation in the last week and it is very disturbing. Are there any ways to treat it?

A. I found that I was lacking in magnesium. I take Magnesium Citrate tablets - up to 400 mg. Regulate it yourself if you get diarrhia take less.
Here is a good article on the need for Magnesium...
Lawrence Resnick, M.D., a professor of medicine at Cornell Medical Center urges getting at least 1 milligram of magnesium for each 2mg of calcium.

Q. How to help with constipation? I am 15 weeks pregnant and am suffering from constipation. How can I get rid of it?

A. rty benefiber ,there no taste ,mixes with water,and is healthy

More discussions about constipation
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