Facts on Constipation

HCQU Fact Sheet

The word "health" in block letters made up of fruits and vegetables.Constipation is defined as a condition in which a person has fewer than three bowel movements a week, or has bowel movements with stools that are hard, dry, and small, making them painful or difficult to pass. Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions.

Causes of Constipation

  • Hypothyroidism which causes body systems to slow down including the GI system
  • Diabetes causing nerve damage affecting digestion
  • Irritable bowel syndrome, Depression, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s
  • Too much water is reabsorbed from the colon and/or stool stays in the colon for too long
  • Low fiber Diet
  • Certain foods such as chocolate, bananas, black tea,too much dairy, eggs, meat, fatty foods, fast foods
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Lack of exercise (especially the handicapped and elderly)
  • Repeated ignoring the urge to defecate, possibly due to being too busy or aversion to use of public restrooms
  • Certain medications: pain medication (narcotics but also Aspirin and Ibuprophen taken chronically); SSRI Antidepressants, Calcium Channel Blockers taken for Hypertension, Diuretics, Antihistamines
  • Supplements such as calcium, iron, antacids with calcium or aluminum
  • Laxative overuse leading to dependence


  • Exercise can make bowel movements regular and reduce stress. Wait 1 hour after eating a large meal however before exercising to allow time for digestion
  • Adequate fluid intake helps soften the stool, however not caffeinated and alcohol beverages as they can cause dehydration
  • Bulk forming laxatives, however always discuss with the physician which are best
  • Foods to help prevent constipation include:
    • beans
    • fruits such as kiwi, pears, plums, apples, berries especially raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries
    • dried fruit such as raisins, figs, prunes and apricots
    • sweet and regular potatoes including the skins
    • air-popped popcorn
    • nuts especially almonds, pecans, and walnuts
    • seeds like sesame, pumpkin, ground flax-seed, whole grains
    • broccoli and other vegetables

Medications Used for Treatment of Constipation

  • Bulk forming laxatives — Metamucil, Fiber Con, Citrucel, Konsyl. These medications absorb fluid into the intestines making the stool bulkier. They must be taken with water to avoid obstruction.
  • Osmotic Agents — Milk of Magnesia, Fleet Phosphosoda, Miralax. These agents help soften stool by retaining fluid.
  • Stool Softeners — Colace, Docusate, Surfax. These agents mix fluid into the stool to soften it. These are suggested frequently for those who need to avoid straining.
  • Stimulants — Correctol, Dulcolax, Senokot. These agents cause the intestine to contract moving the stool and are used for severe constipation.
  • Chloride Channel Activators — Amitiza. This medication is available only by prescription. This type of laxative increases fluid in the GI tract.
  • The physician may recommend drinking increased amount of fluids and emptying the bladder frequently to help flush out the bacteria. The physician may also prescribe a medication that numbs the bladder and urethra to relieve the burning with urination. This medication typically discolors the urine orange or red.
  • Read the information provided by the pharmacy to be aware of possible side effects and potential symptoms of allergic reaction.
  • Notify the physician if symptoms worsen after two days of treatment.

For further training on this or other topics please call Milestone HCQU Northwest at 814-728-9400

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This resource created by Milestone Health Care Quality Unit (HCQU) Northwest