UT University Health Services

Constipation

Most people think they should have a bowel movement every day to be "regular." In reality, most people have anywhere from three bowel movements a day to three bowel movements a week. Constipation occurs when your stools are hard to pass and/or your bowel movements are uncomfortable.

While certain medical conditions can cause constipation, it's most commonly caused by too little dietary fiber, too little exercise, not drinking enough fluids, stress, or waiting too long to go to the bathroom when you have the urge to go. Some medications can cause constipation, and you can become constipated if you overuse laxatives becoming dependent on them to have a normal bowel movement.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Straining or discomfort when you have a bowel movement
  • Feeling like you still have stool in your bowel after a bowel movement
  • Hard stool or stool that resembles pellets
  • Bloating, abdominal pain, and/or gas

Self-Care Measures

To maintain normal bowel movements:
  • Go to the bathroom when you feel the urge.
  • Drink at least two liters of water every day.
  • Get regular physical exercise - even just a daily walk.
  • Increase the amount of fiber in your diet by choosing whole grains and eating five servings of fresh fruits or vegetables every day.

If you've tried the measures above and need more immediate relief:

  • Take a mild laxative, such as a fiber supplement, or a product specifically labeled "stool softener." Your pharmacist can help you choose an appropriate product.
  • Unless occasional use of enemas has worked for you in the past, avoid them until you consult with a healthcare provider.

Over the Counter Medications for Constipation

  • Brand names listed as examples do not imply better quality over other brands. Generic equivalents may also exist.
  • Use only as directed on the package, unless your healthcare provider instructs you to do otherwise.
  • OTCs may interact with other medications or be potentially harmful if you have certain medical conditions. Talk to your pharmacist about options that are right for you.

Constipation:
Bulk Fiber (examples: Benefiber®, Citrucel®)

Stool Softener:
examples: Phillips®, Colace®


CALL THE UHS NURSE ADVICE LINE AT (512) 475-6877 (NURS) IF YOU EXPERIENCE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:

  • No improvement or worsening symptoms despite self-care measures
  • Constipation that begins suddenly or after years of normal bowel movements
  • Painful bowel movements and/or anal or rectal pain that continues for a while after a bowel movement
  • Constipation alternating with episodes of diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Weight loss not due to dietary or exercise changes
  • Inability to establish regular bowel movements without using laxatives.

CALL 911 OR GO DIRECTLY TO AN EMERGENCY ROOM IF EITHER OF THE FOLLOWING OCCURS:

  • Severe, persistent abdominal pain.
  • Dark, tar-colored stool or large amounts of blood in the stool.
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