The normal length of time between bowel movements varies widely from person to person. Some people have them three times a day. Others have them just a few times a week. Going longer than 3 or more days without one, though, is usually too long. After 3 days, your poop gets harder and more difficult to pass.

What Are the Symptoms?

You may have:

  • Few bowel movements
  • Trouble having a bowel movement (straining to go)
  • Hard or small stools
  • A sense that everything didn’t come out
  • Belly bloating

You also may feel like you need help to empty your bowels, such as pressing on your belly.

Why Does It Happen?

Some causes of constipation include:

  • Changes to what you eat or your activities
  • Not enough water or fiber in your diet
  • Eating a lot of dairy products
  • Not being active
  • Resisting the urge to poop
  • Stress
  • Overuse of laxatives
  • Some medications (especially strong pain drugs such as narcotics, antidepressants, and iron pills)
  • Antacid medicines that have calcium or aluminum
  • Eating disorders
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Problems with the nerves and muscles in your digestive system
  • Colon cancer
  • Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis
  • Underactive thyroid (called hypothyroidism)

What Should I Do If I Am Constipated?

Take these steps:

  • Drink two to four extra glasses of water a day, unless your doctor told you to limit fluids for another reason.
  • Try warm liquids, especially in the morning.
  • Add fruits and vegetables to your diet.
  • Eat prunes and bran cereal.
  • Exercise most days of the week. When you move your body, the muscles in your intestines are more active, too.
  • Don’t ignore the urge to poop.
You can try taking a laxative, too. There are several types of laxatives, and you can buy many of them over the counter. Each of them works in a different way to ease constipation. Ask your doctor or pharmacist which kind might work for you and how long you should take it.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Call your doctor right away if you have sudden constipation with belly pain or cramping and you aren’t able to poop or pass gas at all.

  • Constipation is a new problem for you, and lifestyle changes haven’t helped.
  • You have blood in your stool.
  • You’re losing weight even though you’re not trying to.
  • You have severe pain with bowel movements.
  • Your constipation has lasted more than 2 weeks.
  • The size, shape, and consistency of your stool has changed dramatically.

Your doctor may recommend some tests to find the cause of your constipation:

  • Blood tests to check on hormone levels
  • Tests that check the muscles in your anus
  • Tests that show how waste moves through and out of your colon
  • Colonoscopy to look for blockages in your colon