Constipation is a condition in which a person's bowel movements become uncomfortable or less frequent than usual. Acute constipation begins suddenly and noticeably. Chronic constipation may begin slowly and last for months or years.
What is going on in the body?
The role of the digestive system is to extract nutrients from the food a person eats and prepare the leftover material for disposal. This leftover material passes through at least 20 feet of intestine before being stored temporarily in the colon, where water is removed. Finally, this fecal residue is excreted as a bowel movement.
The frequency of bowel movements considered normal varies from person to person. "Normal" may range from movements 3 times a day to 3 times a week.
Constipation is not an illness, but it may be a symptom of another problem.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
This condition can be caused by:
a recent change in diet
dietary factors, such as not drinking enough fluids, eating too much animal protein, or not eating enough fiber-rich foods
a decrease in physical activity or too little physical activity
certain drugs, such as those for pain, depression, and high blood pressure
rapid weight loss
a person ignoring the feeling of needing to pass stool
hormone changes, such as those in pregnancy
high blood calcium
specific diseases, such as colon cancer or an underactive thyroid
depression, tension, or anxiety
Acute constipation may be caused by a serious problem, such as a blockage or poor blood supply to the large intestine, or nerve and spinal cord injury.