What is Constipation?

Constipation is having less than 3 bowel movements per week, with stools that are usually dry, compact, hard to eliminate and poorly formed. It is most often related to a diet deficient in fiber, use of certain medications, and a sedentary lifestyle. If constipation becomes more frequent or severe, evaluation is required as it may indicate significant pathology, including colon cancer.


Causes and Diagnosis

Constipation can be caused by medications, thyroid problems, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, electrolyte problems, and anatomical problems such as colon tumors or pelvic floor dysfunction (weakness in the muscles of the pelvic floor). Workup of constipation includes blood tests, checking for anemia, electrolyte problems, and thyroid problems. A Sitz Mark Study, is a special X-ray test which can assess for how slow the colon moves. Most importantly, if the cause is uncertain, a Colonoscopy can be considered. With a Colonoscopy, a small flexible camera is inserted into the rectum and colon to rule out tumors or causes of obstruction.


Dietary Recommendations for High Fiber Intake

A fiber diet is beneficial for colon health. A diet that is rich in fiber may decrease the risk of developing polyps and colon cancer. Fiber may also help reduce cholesterol. In general, it is recommended that you get 25-30 grams of fiber per day in your diet. A complete description of this diet can be found at


Quick Facts: 

Though constipation affects 2% of the US population, women and the elderly are more commonly affected.
If you have constipation for more than 2 weeks, you should see a doctor to determine the source of problem and treat it. Enemas and colon cleansing may temporarily remove body waste, but they’re not an effective way to prevent or cure constipation.


Prevention & Treatment

Constipation can often be helped by increasing fluid intake to at least 6-8 glasses of water per day. Increase physical activity. Minimize medications that may contribute to the problem. Increase dietary fiber intake to approximately 25-30 grams of fiber per day. Typical sources of this include whole grain cereals, bread, pasta, oatmeal, and large amounts of fruits and vegetables. Fiber supplementation, such as Metamucil, Citrucel, or Benefiber may also augment stool bulk. When the above measures fail to improve the situation, there are many types of over-the-counter laxatives that can be considered. Surgery is rarely indicated for patients with constipation, except when it is due to pelvic floor dysfunction or other unusual conditions.

Learn more about the specific diet associated with this condition.

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