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What is constipation?

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Quick Answer

Constipation refers to difficult or infrequent bowel movements normally resulting from a disorder of bowel function, states WebMD. Affected individuals may experience straining during bowel movements, abdominal pain, hard stools or a sense of incomplete bowel movements.

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Full Answer

Although normal frequency of bowel movements varies widely from person to person, going three days without a bowel movement is unhealthy because the stools become harder and more difficult to pass, explains WebMD. Individuals may be constipated if they experience hard stools, incomplete bowel movements or straining more than 25 percent of the time or if they have two or fewer bowel movements per week. Common causes include inadequate fiber intake, not drinking enough water, stress, excess consumption of dairy products, a disruption in the person's normal routine or inadequate exercise. It may also occur as a result of conditions such as hypothyroidism, depression or multiple sclerosis.

Constipation affects approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population, and it is more common in women and elderly individuals, according to WebMD. Although the condition is generally not serious, it can occasionally be a health concern. Constipated individuals should call a doctor if constipation is a new problem, they are losing weight without dieting, they experience severe pain during bowel movements or the constipation lasts more than two weeks.

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