Senior Health Series: Concerned About Constipation?

Nearly everyone becomes constipated at one time or another. Older people are more likely than younger people to become constipated, but most of the time it is not serious.

Constipation is a symptom, not a disease. You may be constipated if you are having fewer bowel movements than usual, it takes a long time to pass stools, and they are hard.

People often worry too much about having a bowel movement every day. There is no right number of daily or weekly bowel movements. Being regular is different for each person. For some people, it can mean bowel movements twice a day. For others, movements just three times a week are normal.

Questions to Ask

Some doctors suggest asking these questions to decide if you are constipated:

  • Do you often have fewer than three bowel movements a week?
  • Do you often have a hard time passing stools?
  • Are stools often lumpy or hard?
  • Do you have a feeling of being blocked or of not having fully emptied your bowel?

Did you answer "yes" to one or more of these questions? If so, you may have a constipation problem. Otherwise, you probably do not.

What Causes Constipation?

Doctors do not always know what causes constipation. It may be a poor diet, not getting enough exercise, or using laxatives too often.