Medical instruments to diagnose constipation are sitting on the gastroenterologist's desk.

What is constipation? Constipation is a common digestive issue.

Constipation involves slow bowel movements often linked to factors like the absence of dietary fiber, modern nutritional changes, and dehydration.

The frequency of bowel movements varies, but having fewer than three per week or experiencing difficulty passing stool may indicate constipation.

Conditions such as pre-diabetes, diabetes, and stress, along with a slow metabolism, colon polyps, and fecal impaction, influence constipation.


What is constipation?

Constipation is a prevalent gastrointestinal issue characterized by difficulty in stool passage, leading to infrequent or strained bowel movements.

This condition arises when the muscles in the colon, responsible for propelling waste through the digestive tract, experience reduced contractions.

Causes of constipation vary and can include:

  • Dehydration;
  • Certain medications;
  • Inadequate fiber intake;
  • Lack of physical activity.

Additionally, underlying health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or hypothyroidism can contribute to this discomforting condition.

The symptoms often encompass bloating, abdominal discomfort, and a sense of incomplete evacuation.

While generally not considered a severe medical concern, persistent constipation can negatively impact one's quality of life and may lead to complications such as hemorrhoids or fecal impaction.

Management typically involves lifestyle modifications such as dietary adjustments, increased water intake, and regular exercise.

Doctors recommend medical interventions like o-t-c- laxatives or prescription medications in more severe cases.

According to a medical study on chronic constipation and IBS published by The World Journal of Gastroenterology:

“Population-based studies carried out in North America reveal that between 1.9% and 27.2% of individuals experience constipation, with most estimates ranging from 12% to 19%.”
“These different values are probably due to the fact that constipation is a symptom rather than a disease, susceptible to different and subjective interpretations of a real or imagined disturbance of bowel function.”


It is crucial to heed the call of nature and visit the bathroom when the urge to poop arises for several reasons.

Bowel movements are the body's natural way of eliminating waste and toxins, contributing to overall digestive health.

Ignoring the urge can lead to stool hardening.

This thing makes the stool difficult and uncomfortable to pass.

These things perfectly describe what constipation is.

Regular and timely bowel movements help prevent constipation.

This process is a condition associated with different complications, such as abdominal pain and bloating.

Holding in stool for extended periods may also result in stretching of the rectum, potentially leading to long-term issues like hemorrhoids.

Additionally, timely bathroom visits promote hygiene by preventing accidents and maintaining cleanliness.

Overall, responding promptly to the body's signals to relieve oneself is integral to maintaining optimal physical well-being and preventing potential complications associated with delayed bowel movements.

According to a medical study called “Factors Affecting Proximal Colon Cleansing Based on Bowel Movement Kinetics: A Prospective Observational Study”:

“We demonstrated that long fecal defecation time suggests inadequate bowel preparation in the proximal colon.”
“Thus, in these patients with a long first defecation time, we recommend activities that can increase bowel movement or a long runway time from the last intake for the purge to the procedure.”


Dietary fiber plays an essential role in alleviating and preventing constipation.

Dietary fiber is a vital component of a well-balanced diet.

Here are a few examples of dietary fiber sources that add bulk to stool and promote regular bowel movement:

  • Fruits;
  • Vegetables;
  • Whole grains.

It acts like a natural laxative, softening the stool and aiding its smooth passage through the digestive tract.

By absorbing water and increasing stool volume, fiber helps prevent the stool from becoming dry and hard, addressing one of the primary causes of constipation.

Additionally, fiber contributes to the overall health of the digestive system by promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.

Individuals suffering from constipation can benefit significantly from increasing their fiber intake, as it not only eases current symptoms but also serves as a preventive measure, fostering long-term digestive wellness and mitigating the risk of recurrent constipation.

Flax seeds are excellent examples of dietary fiber, according to The Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (Basel, Switzerland):

“The flax seed contains dietary fiber and health-promotive lignans with a high ratio of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (LA, an omega-6 fatty acid), both of which are essential fatty acids for human health.”
“Canada’s Food Guide recommends flax seed as a healthy food that could decrease cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”


Adapting the modern diet is imperative for individuals grappling with constipation.

The contemporary diet, often rich in processed foods and low in dietary fiber, contributes significantly to this prevalent digestive issue.

Introducing dietary changes becomes a key strategy in managing and preventing constipation.

Increasing fiber intake by incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes helps soften stool, enhance bulk, and promote regular bowel movements.

Adequate hydration is equally vital, as water aids in the smooth passage of stool through the digestive tract.

Avoiding highly processed and low-fiber foods while embracing a balanced, fiber-rich diet will improve digestive health.

This dietary shift not only addresses current constipation symptoms.

It also serves as a proactive measure, fostering long-term gastrointestinal well-being.

By prioritizing wholesome, fiber-packed nutrition, individuals can positively impact their digestive systems, mitigating the risk of constipation and promoting overall digestive comfort.

According to a medical guideline called “Dietary Lifestyle Changes” published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine:

“People consume various nutrients in their diet daily, but we often fail to emphasize their effects on health outcomes.”
“A healthy diet entails choosing a more nutritious diet over those with large amounts of trans fats, added salt, and sugar.”


Constipation is a dehydration problem because it makes the stool dry.

Dehydration can significantly impact the process of stool evacuation, leading to difficulties and discomfort in bowel movements.

Adequate hydration is essential for maintaining the balance of fluids in the body, including the digestive system.

When the body lacks sufficient water, the colon absorbs more water from the stool, resulting in dry and hardened feces.

This dryness makes it challenging for the stool to move through the intestines, causing constipation.

Dehydration can slow down the overall transit time of food through the digestive tract, contributing to further water absorption and exacerbating constipation.

Staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining the softness and bulk of stool, facilitating smooth bowel movements, and preventing the onset of constipation.

Daily water intake routines are a fundamental aspect of promoting digestive health.

This essential process avoids the adverse effects of dehydration on defecation.

Medical experts from The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders state that:

“General signs of dehydration include thirst, less frequent urination, dry skin, fatigue, light-headedness, and dark-colored urine.”


Diabetes and dehydration can significantly contribute to the development and exacerbation of constipation.

In diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels may impair the normal functioning of nerves in the digestive system, leading to slowed bowel movements.

Individuals with diabetes should prevent and alleviate constipation by:

  • Managing blood sugar levels.
  • Maintaining adequate hydration.

Additionally, individuals with diabetes often experience complications such as neuropathy, which further hinders proper intestinal function.

Dehydration, a common concern in diabetes due to increased urination, can result in hardened stools and difficulty passing them.

Health experts from The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases state that:

“Symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst and urination, increased hunger, fatigue, blurred vision, numbness or tingling in the feet or hands, and sores that do not heal.”


Stress exerts a profound influence on intestinal motility, disrupting the normal functioning of the digestive system.

The intricate connection between the brain and the gut, often defined as the gut-brain axis, means that heightened stress levels can lead to alterations in intestinal movements.

The body's stress response, triggered by the release of hormones like cortisol, can induce changes in the contraction and relaxation patterns of the intestinal muscles.

This disturbance in intestinal motility may manifest as:

  • Accelerated transit times.
  • Slowed transit times.

Both of them are contributing to gastrointestinal issues.

Also, they summarize what constipation is.

Chronic stress is associated with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), where abnormal motility patterns result in abdominal discomfort, bloating, and irregular bowel habits.

Managing stress through relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and other stress-reduction strategies becomes crucial for maintaining optimal intestinal motility and digestive health.

According to a medical review published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine called Does stress induce bowel dysfunction?:

“Psychological stress is known to induce somatic symptoms. Classically, many gut physiological responses to stress are mediated by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis.”


Various factors contribute to a slow metabolism, affecting the body's ability to convert carbohydrates into energy.

Inadequate physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to:

  • Diminished muscle mass.
  • A slower metabolism.

Aging is a natural factor.

As people age, muscle mass tends to decrease, impacting the rate at which calories burn inside the tissues.

Hormonal imbalances, especially in conditions like hypothyroidism, can also slow metabolism, as the thyroid gland plays a vital role in regulating it.

Extreme calorie restriction or crash diets may signal the body to conserve energy, slowing down metabolic processes.

Genetics can play a role, as some individuals may inherit a naturally slower metabolic rate.

Insufficient sleep and chronic stress can disrupt hormonal balance.

These elements contribute to a sluggish metabolism.

Regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and adequate sleep are essential to maintaining a healthy and efficient metabolism.

According to a comprehensive review on whole grain rice, starch digestibility, and glucose metabolism:

“Insulin resistance, a feature of abnormal glucose metabolism, may increase the levels of free fatty acids and triglycerides in blood lipids, leading to dyslipidemia.”
“Thus, regulating glucose and lipid metabolism is central to reducing health risks and improving the symptoms of metabolic diseases (e.g., hyperglycemia, diabetes, and obesity).”


Colon polyps, which are growths forming on the colon's lining, can impact the evacuation of fecal matter in diverse ways.

The presence of polyps may not necessarily cause noticeable symptoms.

But in some cases, depending on their size and location, they can lead to changes in bowel habits.

Larger polyps can obstruct the passage of stool, resulting in difficulties during bowel movements.

Some polyps might bleed, causing blood to appear in the stool.

In certain instances, polyps can contribute to a feeling of incomplete evacuation, where individuals may sense that they haven't entirely emptied their bowels.

While not all colon polyps are cancerous, some have the potential to develop into colorectal cancer over time.

Regular screening and timely removal of polyps are crucial for preventing cancer.

They are also crucial for maintaining healthy defecation patterns and overall digestive health.

Medical experts from The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases state that:

“Most polyps are not cancerous, but some may turn into cancer over time. Removing polyps can help prevent colorectal cancer.”


Fecal impaction is a severe form of constipation.

Fecal impaction occurs when a mass of dry, hardened stool accumulates in the rectum or colon, obstructing healthy bowel movements.

Individuals experiencing fecal impaction may encounter symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • An inability to pass stool, even with the urge to do so.

This condition not only causes extreme discomfort but also exacerbates constipation.

The impacted stool hinders the passage of softer stool, leading to an ongoing cycle of constipation.

If left untreated, fecal impaction can result in complications such as bowel obstruction.

Effective management involves addressing the impaction through interventions like manual removal, laxatives, or enemas.

Preventive measures like dietary changes, increased fluid intake, and regular physical activity mitigate the risk of recurrent constipation and impaction.

Early recognition and intervention are crucial to breaking the cycle and promoting optimal digestive health.

Last medically reviewed on 27.02.2024


1. Risk factors for dehydration among elderly nursing home residents. R Lavizzo-Mourey, J Johnson, P Stolley.

2. Report of an Unusual Case With Severe Fecal Impaction Responding to Medication Therapy. Wei Zhao, MD and Meiyun Ke.

3. Recent progress in the use of functional foods for older adults: A narrative review. Anna Jędrusek-Golińska, Danuta Góreck.

4. A prospective study of bowel movement frequency, constipation, and laxative use on colorectal cancer risk. Jessica Citronberg, Elizabeth D. Kantor,John D. Potter, and Emily White.

5. Impact of Single- vs. Split-Dose Low-Volume Bowel Preparations on Bowel Movement Kinetics, Patient Inconvenience, and Polyp Detection: A Prospective Trial. Nicholas Horton, Ari Garber, Henrietta Hasson, Rocio Lopez, Carol A Burke.



My name is Sebastian D., and I am the senior editor of constipationguide.com. With the help of my mentor, Dr. Horia Marculescu, I decided to create a practical guide to constipation relief.. read more

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