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Constipation in the Elderly

Although everyone occasionally experiences constipation, elderly people may be more concerned about it. By asking yourself a few key questions, you can determine if you indeed do have constipation and what you can do about it. Keep in mind, however, that what are considered normal bowel habits vary from person to person.

An Overview of Constipation in the Elderly

Nearly everyone becomes constipated at one time or another. Usually, this condition is not serious. To avoid most of the problems related to constipation, it helps to know what causes it, how to prevent it, and how to treat it.
Constipation is a symptom, not a disease. You may be constipated if you are having fewer bowel movements than usual, with a long or difficult passing of stools. Elderly people are more likely than younger people to become constipated.
Experts agree that older people often worry too much about having a bowel movement every day. There is no right number of daily or weekly bowel movements. Being regular is different for each person. For some people it can mean having bowel movements twice a day. For others, bowel movements just three times a week are normal.

Questions to Ask

If you are an elderly person and wonder if what you are experiencing is constipation, consider the following questions:
  • Do you often have fewer than three bowel movements each week?
  • Do you often have a hard time passing stools?
  • Is there pain when you have a bowel movement?
  • Are there other problems, such as bleeding?
If you answer yes to more than one of these questions, you may be constipated and should go ahead and contact your healthcare provider. Otherwise, you probably are not.
(Click Causes of Constipation for more information about constipation in the elderly.)

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