Constipation occurs when bowel movements are infrequent or hard, or when a person has difficulty passing stool. Bowel habits are different from person to person, but typically, constipation is diagnosed when a person is unable to have a bowel movement after more than three days or if they are unable to pass a bowel movement after 10 minutes, even if they have the urge to do so. Constipation may also be diagnosed when a person is able to pass a stool, but the process is painful.
Constipation is a common condition when it occurs sporadically, but some people suffer from chronic constipation. It is also common for older adults. Not being able to have a bowel movement is uncomfortable and can become painful in severe cases.
Constipation is usually caused by dietary issues. If a person is dehydrated or does not eat enough fiber, it can cause stools to harden or bowel movements to occur infrequently. The condition may also occur for people who lack physical activity or if they delay using the bathroom when they feel the urge to go. Constipation may also be a side effect of some medications or it may occur if a person is experiencing stress or undergoing a life change.
Constipation can usually be treated with dietary and lifestyle changes, but in severe cases, physical therapy or surgery may be required. Sudden constipation or constipation that alternates with diarrhea may indicate a severe health problem and should be brought to your doctor’s attention immediately.