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Constipation
Signs and Symptoms

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:

  • The inability to have a bowel movement for several days or passing hard, dry stools
  • Abdominal bloating, cramps or pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Gastroenterology

Gastroenterology at Mount Zion
1701 Divisadero St., Suite 120
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 502-4444
Fax: (415) 502-2249
Appointment information

Gastroenterology at Parnassus
350 Parnassus Ave., Suite 410
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 502-2112
Fax: (415) 514-3300
Appointment information

Gastrointestinal Motility & Secretion Center
400 Parnassus Ave., Box 0310
San Francisco, CA 94143-0310
Phone: (415) 353-9383
Fax: (415) 353-2505
Appointment information