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It simply means infrequent stools. Hard stools, difficulty passing stools (straining). A sense of incomplete emptying of a bowel movement.
The most common pattern is one bowel movement a day, but this pattern is seen in less than 50% of people. The number of bowel movements generally decreases with age.
At the extreme end of the constipation spectrum is fecal impaction, a condition in which stool hardens in the rectum and prevents the passage of any stool.
Hence, constipation usually is defined as fewer than three bowel movements per week.
Severe constipation is defined as less than one bowel movement per week.
Constipation is a symptom of an underlying condition; hence, it should be evaluated.
It is important to distinguish acute (recent onset) constipation from chronic (long duration) constipation. Acute constipation requires urgent assessment because a serious medical illness may be the underlying cause. Constipation also requires an immediate assessment if it is accompanied by worrisome symptoms such as rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and cramps, nausea and vomiting, and involuntary loss of weight. In contrast, the evaluation of chronic constipation may not be urgent, particularly if simple measures bring relief.

Depending upon the severity and type of constipation, the symptoms of constipation might differ from person to person. Symptoms include:

  • Infrequent stools.
  • Hard stools
  • Straining or difficulty in passing stools
  • Sense of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement.
  • Hard stools
  • Acute - constipation might show such symptoms as rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and cramps, nausea and vomiting, and in explainable weight loss.


Constipation can be caused by the slow passage of digesting food through any part of the intestine. More than 95% of the time, however, the slowing occurs in the colon.
Irregular eating habits.
A frequently over-looked cause of constipation is medications. The most common offending medications include:

  • Narcotic pain medications.
  • Antidepressants
  • Anticonvulsants.
  • Iron supplements
  • Calcium supplements
  • Aluminum-containing antacids

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