Although bowel movement frequency varies greatly for each person, if more than three days pass without a bowel movement, the contents in the intestines may harden, making it difficult or even painful to pass. Straining during bowel movements or the feeling of incomplete emptying also may be considered constipation.
Constipation is a symptom, not a disease, and can be caused by many factors. The most common are poor diet and lack of exercise. Other causes include irritable bowel syndrome, pregnancy, laxative abuse, travel, specific diseases, hormonal disturbances, loss of body salts and nerve damage. A variety of medications also can cause constipation, such as pain medications, especially narcotics, antacids that contain aluminum, antispasmodic drugs, antidepressant drugs, tranquilizers, iron supplements, anticonvulsants for epilepsy, antiparkinsonism drugs and antihypertensive calcium channel blockers.
Each individual may experience symptoms of constipation differently. However, some of the most common symptoms include:
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.