Regular bowel movements are the top indicator of a healthy digestive tract. While every person is different, having a bowel movement daily or several times a week is typical. Abnormal bowel habits may indicate an underlying health condition. Although it can feel awkward, don’t be embarrassed to speak with your doctor if you think you are constipated or experiencing other abnormal bowel movements.
A change in bowel habits can in some cases indicate a serious condition, like thyroid imbalance or colon cancer. Be sure to check with your physician if you experience new constipation that lasts more than two weeks.
Signs and risks associated with constipation
If you’re having fewer than three bowel movements per week,
you may be constipated. For children, constipation is categorized as fewer than
two bowel movements per week.
These symptoms often accompany constipation:
Dry, hard stools
that are painful or difficult to pass
swelling, bloating, pain or an inability to pass gas
or vomiting with or without fever
Lower back pain
Blood in the
A feeling that
your bowel does not empty entirely
Severe or long-term constipation can increase your risk of
developing serious conditions such as:
Anal fissures: Small tears in the anus
Hemorrhoids: Painful, swollen veins around the anus
impaction: Feces hardens in the
intestines and the colon can’t push it out of the body
prolapse: The rectum drops through
the anus, often the result of straining
Develop healthy bowel habits with at-home care
Most people can develop healthy bowel habits after a few
weeks of at-home care, including:
fiber-rich foods: Fiber bulks up
stool and makes it soft so it passes easily. Good sources of fiber include beans,
fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid processed foods, candies and red
meat because they can lead to constipation.
hydrated: Drink six to eight cups of
liquid each day because the moisture softens the stool.
regularly: Just 30 minutes of walking
a day can help stimulate regular bowel movements.
Bowel training: Try eliminating your bowels at the same time every
day — for example, 15 to 45 minutes after eating a meal — to establish a
laxatives: Laxatives should be used
only as directed and with caution. Overusing them could lead to decreased bowel
function and dependency. You should talk with your doctor or pharmacist about
which laxative can help provide short-term relief.
You should seek care if your symptoms don’t resolve with two
weeks of at-home measures or if you’ve gone more than a week without a bowel
movement. Your doctor will investigate whether there is an underlying health
condition causing severe constipation. In some cases, he or she may recommend
additional therapies, such as:
therapy to retrain digestive tract muscles
Surgery to remove
blockages or repair a defective colon
If you are concerned about your bowel health, contact your primary care provider (PCP). Your PCP can offer guidance and resources, and when necessary, refer you to the UCLA Division of Digestive Diseases. If you need a PCP, call 800-825-2631.