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Constipation is often defined as having a bowel movement fewer than three times a week. Other symptoms of constipation include the following:

  • Hard stools
  • Difficulty or straining when passing stools
  • Pain during a bowel movement

If left untreated, chronic constipation may cause hemorrhoids, or swollen veins near your anus or lower rectum that may become painful.

Constipation: What you should know

  • Normal bowel movements are different for each person. It’s OK not to have a bowel movement every day.
  • The following things can contribute to constipation:
    • A low-fiber diet
    • Lack of physical activity
    • Not drinking enough water
    • Not going to the bathroom when you have the urge
    • Stress
  • You can help prevent or address constipation by adding more fiber to your diet, exercising more and drinking more water.
  • While uncomfortable, constipation by itself is not a serious problem. It can be a symptom of many conditions, including colorectal cancer, underactive thyroid and diabetes.
  • Even though constipation can be a sign of more serious issues, only a small number of people with constipation have a serious medical condition.

How can I get help for constipation?

Call your primary care doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Your symptoms come on suddenly and are accompanied by pain
  • You have blood in your stool in addition to constipation
  • Your constipation continues for more than two weeks