Constipation: What You Should Know


April 22, 2021

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

While it may not be a popular topic of conversation, constipation is certainly a common medical problem. Everyone has changes in their bowel habits from time to time. The cause might be something you ate (or didn’t eat), a change in routine (such as travel or a new job), or possibly a more serious issue. 

Constipation is characterized by infrequent bowel movements (two or fewer per week), painful bowel movements, or large-caliber, hard stools that may require excessive straining

What to Do About Constipation 

Luckily, simple habits can help prevent and/or relieve constipation. For most people, the following should do the trick:

  • Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Have a regular bowel habit (at a comfortable time and place)
  • Drink enough water (to avoid dehydration)
  • Listen to your body (don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement)

It’s generally best to try the solutions above before laxatives, which you should talk to a doctor before taking. Laxative use may be dangerous in certain situations, such as in the case of bowel obstruction or appendicitis. In other situations, laxatives may simply not be effective.

Over the counter stool softeners may help, but are usually not necessary if you consume enough fiber and stay hydrated.


When to Talk to a Doctor

You should talk to a doctor about constipation if you have:

  • Gone more than 7 days without a bowel movement
  • Constipation accompanied by:
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Fever
    • Dehydration
    • Significant or persistent abdominal pain
    • Loss of appetite
    • Significant weight loss
  • Tried dietary measures such as eating prunes, fresh fruits and vegetables, or increasing your liquid intake that have not helped relieve your constipation 
  • A history of abdominal surgery or bowel blockage/obstruction
  • Recently used certain medications, such as diuretics or narcotic pain relievers 
  • Other serious health issues like cancer


Use Telemedicine for Constipation 

If your employer or school provides you with First Stop Health telemedicine, our doctors are here for you 24/7. Request a visit to get care in minutes for constipation, upset stomach, medical questions and more.

Request a Visit

Originally published Apr 22, 2021 4:24:09 PM, updated August 25, 2021.