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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Medical Symptoms > Constipation
      Category : Health Centers > Digestive System


Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

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
  • illness
  • iron tablets
  • 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.


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    Constipation: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Dr. Karen Wolfe, MBBS, MA
    Reviewer: Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
    Date Reviewed: 08/09/01

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