Constipation is the infrequent and difficult passage of stool. The frequency of bowel movements among healthy people varies greatly, ranging from three movements a day to three a week. As a rule, if more than three days pass without a bowel movement, the intestinal contents may harden, and a person may have difficulty or even pain during elimination. Stool may harden and be painful to pass, however, even after shorter intervals between bowel movements. Straining during bowel movements or the feeling of incomplete evacuation may also be reported as constipation.
Many false beliefs exist concerning proper bowel habits. One of these is that a bowel movement every day is necessary. Another common fallacy is that wastes stored in the body are absorbed and are dangerous to health or shorten the life span. These misconceptions have led to a marked overuse and abuse of laxatives. Every year, Americans spend $725 million on laxatives. Many are not needed and some are harmful.
Constipation is a symptom, not a disease. Like a fever, constipation can be caused by many different conditions. Most people have experienced an occasional brief bout of constipation that has corrected itself with diet and time.