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Constipation is having trouble passing stool or having hard stools. “Regularity” does not mean that you have a bowel movement every day. Normal bowel habits range from 3 movements a day to 3 each week. What is more important is what is normal for you.

Signs &




to Ask

Self-Care /


Image of women holding her stomach.

•  A hard time passing stool. Not being able to pass stool. Having very hard stool.

•  Straining to have a bowel movement.

•  Abdominal swelling. The feeling of continued fullness after passing stool.

Image of a man holding his stomach.

•  Drinking too few fluids. Not eating enough dietary fiber.

•  Not being active enough.

•  Not going to the bathroom when you have the urge to pass stool.

•  Misuse of laxatives.

•  A side effect of some heart, pain, and antidepressant medicines, as well as, antacids, antihistamines, and water pills.

•  Chronic illnesses that slow the digestive tract. Examples are diabetes and an underactive thyroid.

•  Cancer or other diseases of the bowel.

Image of prunes to help constipation.

Self-care usually treats constipation. You may also need to talk to your doctor about health problems and medicines that could cause the problem.

•  Eat foods high in dietary fiber. Examples are bran, whole-grain breads and cereals, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

•  Drink at least 1-1/2 to 2 quarts fluids every day. Have hot water, tea, etc. to stimulate the bowel.

•  Get enough exercise.

•  Don’t resist the urge to pass stool.

•  If you take antacids or iron supplements and get constipated easily, discuss the use of these with your doctor.

•  Take stool softeners (e.g., Colace), fiber supplements (e.g., Metamucil), “stimulant” laxatives (e.g., Ex-Lax), or enemas, as directed on the label and by your doctor.

Image of high fiber dish.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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