Constipation is a condition in which there are fewer than three bowel movements a week or bowel movements with stools that are hard, dry, and small, making them painful or difficult to pass.1
Occasional constipation, or difficulty having bowel movements, happens to many people,2 and affects up to 63 million people in the North America. Those who suffer with constipation more persistently may be affected by chronic constipation. Chronic constipation may be diagnosed by a doctor if symptoms last for three months or more, including passing fewer than three stools per week.3
Chronic constipation can be caused by many things, and sometimes the exact cause is unknown. Blockages in the colon or rectum, problems with the nerve signals or muscles of the rectum and colon, or changes in hormones can be some of the possible causes. Up to 15% of the population experiences chronic constipation.4
While it is important to rule out causes related to other more serious diseases, such as cancer, that might be causing a blockage, specific risk factors for chronic constipation include low dietary fiber, dehydration, and low levels of physical activity. Certain medications can also lead to chronic constipation. Some people who suffer from chronic constipation are able to manage their symptoms through lifestyle and dietary changes.5 Those afflicted with chronic constipation should consider increasing their daily amount of exercise, getting sufficient fluid intake and trying to eat up to 30 grams of fiber a day.6
1. El-Salhy et al. MOLECULAR MEDICINE REPORTS 9: 3-8, 2014
2. Higgins PD, Johanson JF. Epidemiology of constipation in North America: a systematic review. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2004;99:750–759.
3. Lacy et al. Ther Adv Gastroenterol (2012) 5(4) 233–247
4. American Gastroenterological Association Medical Position Statement on Constipation. GASTROENTEROLOGY 2013;144:211–217
5. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). (2005)
6. National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board.