Constipation is the term that refers to difficulty passing bowel movements (also known as stools) although there are a number of commonly used definitions ranging from reduced frequency of bowel movements, to the passage of hard bowel movements that are difficult to pass. There is also a wide range of "normal" bowel movement function in health people and therefore the concept that there is difficulty with bowel movements is important in the definition.
Frequency in the Community
Constipation is common - almost everyone will be constipated at some stage in their life. Severe constipation or longstanding constipation is much less common, and usually justifies investigation and treatment.
There are many causes of constipation ranging from not eating enough dietary fibre, to physical inactivity, medications, bowel diseases, dehydration, hormonal conditions, and chronic medical illnesses.
One of more of the following: reduced frequency of bowel movements, the passage of small hard bowel movements, difficulty passing bowel movements.
The diagnosis is made on the clinical history and the cause determined by investigations.
The treatment usually involves understanding the primary cause and treating this. For instance, if the cause is insufficient fibre in the diet, this should be attended to. A fibre containing or "bulk" laxative may also be useful. Maintaining a good oral fluid intake eg 1.5 liters per day, is also important.