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Constipation (Adult)

Constipation means that you have bowel movements that are less frequent than usual. Stools often become very hard and difficult to pass.

Constipation is very common. At some point in life it affects almost everyone. Since everyone's bowel habits are different, what is constipation to one person may not be to another. Your health care provider may do tests to diagnose constipation. It depends on what he or she finds when evaluating you.

Symptoms of constipation include:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bloating

  • Vomiting

  • Painful bowel movements

  • Itching, swelling, bleeding, or pain around the anus


Constipation can have many causes. These include:

  • Diet low in fiber

  • Too much dairy

  • Not drinking enough liquids

  • Lack of exercise or physical activity. This is especially true for older adults.

  • Changes in lifestyle or daily routine, including pregnancy, aging, work, and travel

  • Frequent use or misuse of laxatives

  • Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement or delaying it until later

  • Medicines, such as certain prescription pain medicines, iron supplements, antacids, certain antidepressants, and calcium supplements

  • Diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, bowel obstructions, stroke, diabetes, thyroid disease, Parkinson disease, hemorrhoids, and colon cancer


Potential complications of constipation can include:

  • Hemorrhoids

  • Rectal bleeding from hemorrhoids or anal fissures (skin tears)

  • Hernias

  • Dependency on laxatives

  • Chronic constipation

  • Fecal impaction

  • Bowel obstruction or perforation

Home care

All treatment should be done after talking with your health care provider. This is especially true if you have another medical problems, are taking prescription medicines, or are an older adult. Treatment most often involves lifestyle changes. You may also need medicines. Your health care provider will tell you which will work best for you. Follow the advice below to help avoid this problem in the future.

Lifestyle changes

These lifestyle changes can help prevent constipation:

  • Diet. Eat a high-fiber diet, with fresh fruit and vegetables, and reduce dairy intake, meats, and processed foods

  • Fluids. It's important to get enough fluids each day. Drink plenty of water when you eat more fiber. If you are on diet that limits the amount of fluid you can have, talk about this with your health care provider.

  • Regular exercise. Check with your health care provider first.


Take any medicines as directed. Some laxatives are safe to use only every now and then. Others can be taken on a regular basis. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions.

Prescription pain medicines can cause constipation. If you are taking this kind of medicine, ask your health care provider if you should also take a stool softener.

Medicines you may take to treat constipation include:

  • Fiber supplements

  • Stool softeners

  • Laxatives

  • Enemas

Follow-up care

Follow up with your health care provider if symptoms don't get better in the next few days. You may need to have more tests or see a specialist.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Stiff, rigid abdomen that is severely painful to touch

  • Confusion

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

When to seek medical advice

Call your health care provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever over 100.4°F (38°C)

  • Failure to resume normal bowel movements

  • Pain in your abdomen or back gets worse

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Swelling in your abdomen

  • Blood in the stool

  • Weakness


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