Chronic constipation reconsidered

Eat fiber, right? Wrong, according to experts who say that many beliefs about constipation are off base.

In the United States, constipation results in about 2.5 million doctor visits a year. It's one of the most common — and commonly misunderstood — gastrointestinal complaints. Many people think, for example, that anything less than a daily bowel movement means you're suffering from constipation. But the frequency of bowel movements normally varies a great deal. Some people in perfectly fine gastro-intestinal health have several movements a day, while others have that many in a week. The defining characteristic of constipation is not how frequently you have a bowel movement but the passage of hard, dry stools, often with pain and considerable effort.

Length doesn't matter

Doctors used to think that having an extra-long colon led to constipation. It doesn't. Study results vary, but the normal length seems to range from 4 to 6 feet.

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