Harvard Women's Health Watch

Coming to terms with constipation

There are several remedies for this common symptom, which is rarely a sign of serious illness.

constipation
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Constipation affects women more than men and is more likely to occur at certain times, including pregnancy and in the days preceding menstruation, and becomes increasingly common after menopause. While constipation can cause discomfort and anxiety, it is usually not a symptom of a serious condition. However, it can often be difficult to determine just why someone is constipated.

Constipation isn't a simple problem. It is characterized by fewer than three bowel movements a week, hard dry stools, straining to move one's bowels, and a sense of an incomplete evacuation. "It also has many causes," says Dr. Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. He notes the factors that cause symptoms can vary, depending on whether the condition is sporadic (occurring occasionally) or chronic (persisting for months or years).

Causes of sporadic constipation

An occasional episode or new bout of constipation can be brought on by any of the following:

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