What is Constipation?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Constipation is a reduction in stool production, commonly defined as having less than three bowel movements in a week. This intestinal complaint is extremely common and is a symptom of an underlying medical problem. Usually the cause of the problem is very easily treated and often a visit to a general practitioner can provide a patient with relief. In some cases, this condition is a sign of a more serious problem and it may be necessary to see a gastroenterologist or surgeon for appropriate treatment.

Prunes can often help with constipation.
Prunes can often help with constipation.

Frequency of defecation is highly variable. Some people poop multiple times a day, while others may produce a bowel movement every two days or so. Generally, fewer than three bowel movements a week are a cause for concern. People with this condition commonly have hard, dry stool and may experience painful defecation. In addition, there is often a feeling of fullness and a need to defecate, without being able to do so.

Dietary fiber, like that found in beans, can help with constipation.
Dietary fiber, like that found in beans, can help with constipation.

The leading cause of constipation is poor diet. People who do not eat enough fiber or are receiving inadequate fluids can develop constipation, and changing the diet should address the issue. Some medications are also linked with this symptom. Changing medications may be an option, or a patient may be provided with a stool softener or some dietary recommendations to treat the condition, if it is necessary to stay on the medication.

Two tablespoons of lemon juice and one teaspoon of honey mixed into a glass of water can help to relieve constipation.
Two tablespoons of lemon juice and one teaspoon of honey mixed into a glass of water can help to relieve constipation.

More seriously, this problem can sometimes be a sign of a bowel obstruction preventing stool from passing through, such as a foreign object in the bowel or a kink in the bowel. It can also be associated with some diseases, such as dehydration, lupus, diabetes, and underlying gastrointestinal diseases. Stroke and paralysis can cause this symptom, as can using laxatives excessively, a problem sometimes seen in people with eating disorders. If the problem does not respond to conservative treatment, more aggressive medical evaluation may be recommended to see if there is a more serious medical issue going on.

Laxatives can help relieve constipation.
Laxatives can help relieve constipation.

Treatment usually starts with a patient interview and a physical examination, sometimes paired with X-rays to see what is happening inside the bowel. Based on this information, doctors can discuss medications, diets, and surgery, depending on the cause of the constipation. In some cases, impacted stool may need to be manually removed to address the issue, as sometimes seen when people try to withhold bowel movements and become constipated as a result. Clearing out the impacted feces may resolve the problem and allow the patient to defecate normally again.

Eating a healthy diet that contains fruits and vegetables is a preventative measure against constipation.
Eating a healthy diet that contains fruits and vegetables is a preventative measure against constipation.
While constipated fecal matter may buildup in the intestine.
While constipated fecal matter may buildup in the intestine.
Occasional constipation is generally no cause for concern.
Occasional constipation is generally no cause for concern.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@lonely god - You can also buy senna leaf tablets that have the same laxative properties as the tea. I actually prefer this because I find that senna leaf tea has an unpleasant taste.

Another thing to try if you are badly constipated and don't want to resort to medication is to take a hot bath and massage your stomach. This can actually help to move waste through your bowels and make you more comfortable.


Constipation is a huge problem for those of us that don't get enough fiber in our diets. I must admit that I really need to get more whole grains in me. I find that a way to beat the system is to drink a bit of senna leaf tea and it is guaranteed to clear your system out.

Senna leaf tea is a completely natural laxative and it works wonders when your painfully constipated. You can buy it at most health food stores, but be warned it is very effective. You should stay near the bathroom for about an hour after you drink the tea because you may not make it otherwise.


My tastes have changed over time, and now, my diet includes so many foods rich in fiber that I never have to deal with the constipation I had so often in the past. I eat a few of these foods each day to stay regular, and they are so common that anyone could easily incorporate a few of them in their diet to guard against constipation.

I use a blender to make a smoothie out of milk, bananas, and strawberries. These two fruits have plenty of fiber. I also eat apples, oranges, and cantaloupe for fiber-laden snacks.

Blueberries and rolled oats both contain fiber, and I eat them together for breakfast. I like hot oatmeal with frozen blueberries sprinkled on top.

Black beans and lima beans are good sources, and I often make them as side dishes for dinner. Almonds have lots of fiber as well, and they make a great snack or salad topping. They also taste wonderful when baked into desserts like brownies or sweet breads.


@seag47 - I know the pain you are talking about. I experienced it once, and my mother recommended a certain type of powerful laxative that helped me, though it did have side effects.

This laxative was a lemony flavored liquid. I had to drink an entire glass of water after taking it to help flush things out.

Within three hours, my intestines started to gurgle loudly. I could feel things moving. Then, the cramps arrived. They were horribly painful, alternating between stabbing and bloating.

Immediately after the cramps, I had a bowel movement in the form of diarrhea. I am sure that the laxative eliminated everything that had been trapped inside me, because that was the most diarrhea I have ever had at once. It wasn’t pleasant, but I sure got constipation relief.


I am familiar with constipation pain. It can get so bad that you can’t function in your everyday life. If you go very long without treatment, even over-the-counter laxatives won’t work.

After five days of not being able to go, I started getting a horrible pain across my belly button. It felt like someone had wrapped a sharp belt around my waist and squeezed. It was an extreme soreness as powerful as a stab.

I bent over and could not straighten up. I had to take pain pills to be able to walk upright until I could get some relief. My doctor gave me a strong laxative, and it helped clear me out. The soreness took awhile to go away, because my intestines had been so irritated.


I have always thought that most of the time constipation comes from eating either something that does not pass well, or that I eat something that I do not usually eat.

I have heard that this occurs quite often when people eat steak because it is not something that is regularly eaten, only once in awhile. Also, a lot of cheese is something that can create constipation.


I use to suffer from constipation a lot. I’m sure my diet caused it, because I didn’t drink enough water, and I disliked most foods containing fiber.

Sometimes, I would go a whole week without having a bowel movement. When I did have to go, the stool would be so large and dry that I could barely get it out. It hurt a lot, and I had to push, which caused hemorrhoids.

I started drinking more water and eating whole grain cereal for breakfast. I also started eating yogurt, because I heard that the acidophilus in it could help with the digestive process.

Now, I go every day with no problems. I don’t ever want to experience the pain of constipation again, so I will maintain my healthy diet.

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