What Is It?

Constipation is not having a bowel movement as often as you usually do, or having a tough time going because the stool (poop) is hard and dry. It's a very common problem, and usually happens because a person's diet doesn't include enough fluids and fiber.

Constipation usually isn't a cause for concern — it's preventable and most cases can be resolved with healthy eating and exercise habits.

constipation teen illustration

After you chew and swallow food, it heads to your stomach. From there, it's on to the small intestine, then the large intestine (or bowels), and finally out of the body through the rectum and anus.

As food moves through your digestive system, your body soaks up water and nutrients it needs from the food. What's left over comes out as stool (poop). Normal stool is usually soft and easy to pass, and it generally shouldn't be too difficult to have a bowel movement. But sometimes the bowels just don't move like they should.

A person is considered constipated when he or she has had fewer than three bowel movements in a week; when the stools are hard, dry, and unusually large; or when it's hard for the person to have a bowel movement.

Causes of Constipation

Reasons why people get constipated include:

In rare cases, constipation is a sign of other medical illnesses, so keep your doctor informed if you continue to have problems, or if the constipation lasts for 2 to 3 weeks.

Symptoms of Constipation

Different people have different bathroom habits, so someone who doesn't have a bowel movement every day isn't necessarily constipated. One person might go three times a day, while another might go once every 3 days.

But if you're going less than you normally do, or if it's often hard or painful to go, you might be constipated. A person with constipation might:

Dealing With Constipation

To prevent and treat constipation:

Some medical conditions — like diabetes, lupus, or problems with the thyroid gland — also can cause constipation. If you're worried that your constipation is a sign of something else, talk to your parents and your doctor.

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: October 2014

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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Related Resources
OrganizationNational Institutes of Health (NIH) NIH is an Agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and offers health information and scientific resources.
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OrganizationNorth American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN) NASPGHAN works to help children and adolescents with digestive disorders.
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