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Constipation +k@n(t)-stu-!pA-shun

By Norton J. Greenberger, MD

Constipation is difficult or infrequent bowel movements, hard stool, or a feeling that the rectum is not totally empty after a bowel movement (incomplete evacuation). For constipation in children, see Constipation in Children.

Constipation may be acute or chronic. Acute constipation begins suddenly and noticeably. Chronic constipation may begin gradually and persists for months or years.

Many people believe they are constipated if they do not have a bowel movement every day. However, daily bowel movements are not normal for everyone. It is normal to have anywhere from 1 to 3 bowel movements per day to 2 to 3 bowel movements per week. Having infrequent bowel movements does not necessarily indicate a problem unless there has been a substantial change from previous patterns. The same is true of the color, size, and consistency of stool. People often blame constipation for many symptoms (such as abdominal discomfort, nausea, fatigue, and poor appetite) that are actually the result of other disorders (such as irritable bowel syndrome [IBS] and depression). People should not expect all symptoms to be relieved by a daily bowel movement, and measures to aid bowel habits, such as laxatives and enemas, should not be overused. However, people may harmlessly help relieve their symptoms by eating more fruits, vegetables, fiber, and cereals. Foods that can affect the frequency of bowel movements are listed in see Table: Foods That Often Affect Gastrointestinal Function.

Foods That Often Affect Gastrointestinal Function

Foods Likely to Cause Loose Bowel Movements and/or Excessive Gas

All caffeine-containing beverages especially coffee with chicory

Fruit juices: Orange, cranberry, apple

Asparagus and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts

Bran cereal, whole wheat bread, and high-fiber foods

Pastry, candy, chocolate, waffle syrup, and doughnuts

Wine (more than 3 glasses in susceptible people)

Milk and milk products (in lactose-sensitive people)

Foods Likely to Cause Constipation or Help Control Loose Bowel Movements

Rice, bread, potatoes, and pasta

Meat, veal, poultry, and fish

Cooked vegetables


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