Constipation occurs when stool is hard, dry, and difficult to pass. Normal bowel movement frequency varies from person to person. Some pass stools two or three times a day, while others, every three to five days. If your stools are soft and pass easily, you are not constipated. If you are constipated, you may have cramping, bloating, and pain with bowel movements.

Prevention

  • Eat plenty of high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, bran, and whole-grain cereals
  • Take a supplement such as Metamucil®, FiberCon®, Citrucel® according to product instructions if you diet is not high in fiber.
  • Be attentive to hydration. Normal urination is on the order of every 4-6 hours with light colored urine (unless impacted by food or supplements).
  • Exercise frequently.
  • Go to the bathroom after meals, as this is the time when your bowels are most likely to move.
  • Ask your medical provider if any medicines you currently take could be contributing to constipation (pain medications are especially common causes).

Treatment

Home care    Home Care

  • Try the prevention measures listed above. These measures are both good general habits and effective treatments if you do experience constipation.
  • If the prevention measures above fail to bring relief, you may wish to try one of the many nonprescription medicines available, such as a stool softener or a very mild laxative such as milk of magnesia. Polyethylene glycol 3350 (MiraLax®) is especially effective. Always carefully follow package instructions.

Professional care   Professional Care

Seek medical attention if:

  • Constipation persists for more than several days despite the measures listed below
  • You have severe abdominal pain or cramping
  • You experience heavy rectal bleeding
  • You experience uncontrollable stool leakage (fetal incontinence)
  • Your stools become very thin, like a pencil