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Overview

Constipation is a condition in which a person has fewer than three bowel movements a week or has bowel movements with stools that are hard, dry, and small, making them painful or difficult to pass. Some people think they are constipated if they do not have a bowel movement every day. Bowel movements may occur three times a day or three times a week, depending on the person.

Most people get constipated at some point in their lives. Constipation can be acute, which means sudden and lasting a short time, or chronic, which means lasting a long time, even years. Most constipation is acute and not dangerous. Understanding the causes, prevention, and treatment of constipation can help many people take steps to find relief.

How common is constipation and who is affected?
Constipation is one of the most common G.I. problems in the United States, affecting an estimated 42 million people, or 15 percent of the population. Those reporting constipation most often are women, adults ages 65 and older, non-Caucasians, and people in lower socioeconomic classes. Constipation is also a common problem during pregnancy, following childbirth or surgery, or after taking medications to relieve pain from things such as a broken bone, tooth extraction, or back pain.