Constipation can cause difficult and painful bowel movements of dry, hard stool. Most people deal with it at one time or another. The most common causes of the problem are poor diet and a lack of exercise. If a person has chronic constipation, a doctor may recommend laxatives until it goes away.
Constipation is the passage of small amounts of hard, dry bowel movements, usually fewer than three times a week. People who are constipated may find it difficult and painful to have a bowel movement. Other symptoms include feeling bloated, uncomfortable, and sluggish. In most cases, constipation is temporary and not serious.
Many people think they are constipated when, in fact, their bowel movements are regular. For example, some people believe they are constipated, or irregular, if they do not have a bowel movement every day. However, there is no right number of daily or weekly bowel movements. Three bowel movements a day might be normal for one person, while three a week may be normal for another. Also, some people naturally have firmer stools than others.
At one time or another, almost everyone gets constipated. Poor diet and a lack of exercise are the most common causes of constipation. Understanding the different causes, preventive measures, and available treatment options will help most people find relief.
According to the 1996 National Health Interview Survey, about 3 million people in the United States have frequent constipation. Those who report having constipation most often are women and adults age 65 and over. Pregnant women may have constipation, and it is a common problem following childbirth or surgery.
It is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints in the United States, resulting in about 2 million doctor visits annually. However, most people treat themselves without seeking medical help, as is evident from the millions of dollars Americans spend on laxatives each year.