Constipation means that a person has three or fewer bowel movements in a week. With constipation, the stool can be hard and dry, and is sometimes painful to pass. At one time or another, almost everyone becomes constipated. In most cases, it lasts a short time and is not serious. There are many things you can do to prevent constipation. They include:
- Eating more fruits, vegetables and grains, which are high in fiber
- Drinking plenty of water and other liquids
- Getting enough exercise
- Taking time to have a bowel movement when you need to
- Using laxatives only if your doctor says you should
- Asking your doctor if medicines you take may cause constipation
It's not important that you have a bowel movement every day. If your bowel habits change or constipation becomes a consistent problem however, check with your doctor. To find out the cause, your doctor will take your medical history, asking questions about how long you have had symptoms, how often you have bowel movements, what your stool looks like and whether it contains blood. Your doctor may also ask about your eating and exercise habits and medicines you take.
The physical exam may include a rectal exam, which will also encompass taking a small stool sample to check for blood. Depending upon what the doctor finds, additional tests may be ordered.
Treatment depends on the cause, severity and the length of time you have been constipated. It may be as simple as recommending exercise, diet and other lifestyle changes or may require medicines, biofeedback or possibly surgery.