Constipation is a common digestive issue in which bowel movements are infrequent or difficult to pass.
It’s considered a symptom of various health issues, rather than a disease in and of itself.
“Normal” bowel habits differ between people. Some people may pass stool three times a day, while others may only have a bowel movement three times a week.
You’re considered constipated if you have fewer than three bowel movements in a week. After this point, your stool may harden and become difficult or even painful to pass.
While constipated, you may strain to pass stool or feel that you are unable to completely empty your bowels.
Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal (GI) issues in the United States, affecting about 42 million people, or nearly 15 percent of the population, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
In 2004, constipation resulted in 6.3 million outpatient visits and 5.3 million prescriptions, the NIDDK notes.
Although constipation can affect anyone, you’re at highest risk for it if you are:
Age 65 or older
Of non-European ancestry
You’re also at higher risk for constipation if you’re pregnant, or if you just gave birth or had surgery.