Close up of restroom door engaged sign
1 / 19

1. You Should Have a Bowel Movement Every Day

Myth. Everyone is different. Some people go three times a day; others, three times a week. It’s common to have a bowel movement once a day. But it's OK to go a few days without one as long as you feel fine. If you have fewer than three  per week, you’re constipated. It’s severe if you have fewer than one a week.

Swipe to advance
Mature woman rubbing her own shoulders
2 / 19

2. It Creates Toxins

Myth. Some people believe that constipation causes the body to absorb poisonous substances in stools, leading to diseases such as arthritis, asthma, and colon cancer. There's no evidence that the stools produce toxins or that colon cleansing, laxatives, or enemas can prevent cancer or other diseases. And constipation itself isn’t a disease.

Swipe to advance
Overflowing bowl of flake cereal
3 / 19

3. You Just Need More Fiber

Myth. It’s true that most people fall short, so it’s probably a good idea to eat more veggies, fruits, whole grains, and other plant foods -- and drink more water. Add fiber gradually, so your body gets used to it. If you’re still constipated after that, there could be other reasons, like a medical condition or a side effect from some medicines.

Swipe to advance
Girl blowing bubble gum
4 / 19

4. Swallowed Gum Can Get Stuck

Fact. It's true, but only in rare cases, and mostly in little kids who don't know better. Sometimes downing large amounts of gum or many pieces in a short time can form a mass that blocks the digestive tract, especially if you swallow it with other indigestible things like seeds. The blockage can cause constipation. But for most people, gum moves through, and out of, your body just like other foods do.

Swipe to advance
Woman in Thai market with fresh shrimp
5 / 19

5. Your Vacation Could Be an Issue

Fact. Travel changes your daily routine and diet. While you're away, drink plenty of water -- bottled, if you can’t drink the tap water at your destination. Stay active, too. Walk while you wait for your flight, and stretch your legs on a road trip. Limit alcohol, and eat fruits and vegetables -- preferably cooked, if you need to avoid salads or raw items in the area you visit.

Swipe to advance
Asian female with hand on head
6 / 19

6. Your Mood Matters

Fact. Depression may trigger constipation or make it worse. Reducing stress through meditation, yoga, biofeedback, and relaxation techniques helps. Acupressure or shiatsu massage could, too. Massaging your belly relaxes the muscles that support the intestines, which could help you become more regular.

Swipe to advance
Woman checking watch in restroom line
7 / 19

7. Holding It Won't Hurt

Myth. Do you feel too busy at work to go? Ignoring the urge may make you physically uncomfortable, and it can cause or worsen constipation. Some people find it helps to set aside time after breakfast or another meal for a bowel movement, when these signals are strongest. But no matter when nature calls, answer.

Swipe to advance
Mature woman comparing medications
8 / 19

8. Your Meds Could Be a Cause

Fact. Some drugs for pain, depression, high blood pressure, and Parkinson's disease are linked to constipation. Tell your doctor what’s going on. You may be able to take something else. Calcium and iron supplements, especially if you also take something else that affects your stool, can also cause problems.

Swipe to advance
Assorted breads on a table
9 / 19

9. All Fiber Is the Same

Myth. There are two kinds. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and helps it pass through your intestines faster. Good sources are whole-grain breads, pasta, and cereal. Soluble fiber dissolves in water. It’s in beans, peas, and some other plant foods.

Swipe to advance
prune
10 / 19

10. Prunes Are Powerful

Fact. This small, dried fruit has earned a big reputation as "nature's remedy" for constipation. Prunes (also called dried plums) are rich in insoluble fiber, as well as the natural laxative sorbitol. Children who don't like them might eat prune juice ice pops or sip prune juice mixed with another juice to hide the taste.

Swipe to advance
Mature woman drinking water
11 / 19

11. More Water Helps

Fact. Getting enough water keeps your stools soft and eases constipation. You can get it from drinks or water-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables.  Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can lead to dehydration.

Swipe to advance
Three women walking outside
12 / 19

12. Workouts Get You Going

Fact. Too much downtime makes constipation more likely. After you eat a big meal, wait at least an hour before you exercise so your body has  time to digest your food. Then get going! Take a 10-to-15-minute walk several times a day. Harder workouts are also fine to do. Your whole body will benefit.

Swipe to advance
Close up of coffee cup and saucer
13 / 19

13. Coffee Is a Good Fix

Myth. It's true that the caffeine can stimulate the muscles in your digestive system to contract, causing a bowel movement. But because caffeine is dehydrating, it's not recommended. So if you’re constipated, avoid it or choose decaf.

Swipe to advance
Close up of blue enema bag
14 / 19

14. Colon Cleansing Helps

Myth. Enemas and colon irrigation (high colonics) remove body waste. But they're not an effective way to prevent or cure constipation. Enemas can actually cause constipation for older people who get them regularly. Colonic irrigation, which is usually done by colonic hygienists or therapists, can damage the colon and lead to other problems. Talk to your doctor first.

Swipe to advance
Woman shaking laxative into water glass
15 / 19

15. Laxatives Work Immediately

Myth. It depends on the type. A suppository or enema might work within an hour. A bulk-forming product may take several days; a stimulant one, a few hours. Don't use them for too long, or they could cause other digestive problems. Constipation usually lasts a few days. Talk to your doctor if you need to use laxatives for more than 2 weeks.

Swipe to advance
Doctor providing woman with prescription
16 / 19

16. Stool Softeners Are Laxatives

Fact. They prevent constipation by allowing stools to absorb more water from the colon. Softer stools are easier to pass. Like other laxatives, you should only use them for a short time.  

Swipe to advance
Vintage photo of mother giving child medicine
17 / 19

17. Castor Oil Is a Cure-All

Myth. This powerful laxative is an old-school remedy. But ask your doctor first.  Like other laxatives, you shouldn’t use it for long, or it can make it harder for your body to absorb nutrients and some drugs. If you overdo it, that can damage your bowel muscles, nerves, and tissue -- which can cause constipation. 

Swipe to advance
Multi-generational women
18 / 19

18. It Naturally Happens WIth Age

Myth. Older people are more likely to become constipated. But it’s not a normal part of aging, and it can also happen when you’re younger. It’s very common and usually doesn’t last long, and most cases aren’t serious. But tell your doctor if it doesn’t ease up when you eat more fiber, drink more water, and get more exercise.

Swipe to advance
Concerned woman on phone in bathroom
19 / 19

19. It's Normal to Have Bloody Stool

Myth. Blood in a bowel movement is not always serious. But you should call your doctor ASAP if it happens. Bright red blood is usually from hemorrhoids or tears in the anal lining called fissures. Constipation and straining during bowel movements can cause it. Maroon or tarry black blood or clots often means bleeding is coming from higher in your digestive system. 

Swipe to advance

Up Next

Next Slideshow Title

Sources | Medically Reviewed on 04/24/2016 Reviewed by Lisa Bernstein, MD on April 24, 2016

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

1)    Peter Dazeley / Photodisc
2)    Guy Drayton / Dorling Kindersley
3)    Laurence Dutton / Photographer's Choice
4)    Hemera / Thinkstock
5)    Grove Pashley / Photographer's Choice
6)    Blend Images / ER Productions Ltd
7)    Image Source / Getty
8)    Jed Share / Photographer's Choice
9)  Michael Rosenfeld / FoodPix
10)  Agefotostock
11)  Fuse / Getty
12)  Jim Cummins / Taxi
13)  Medioimages / Photodisc
14)   iStockphoto
15)   Steve Pomberg
16)   Pixtal
17)   George Marks / Hulton Archive
18)  Ariel Skelley / Blend Images
19)  Lars Borges / Photonica

 

SOURCES:

Attaluri, A.  Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, May 2011.

California Dried Plum Board: "FAQ."

Cleveland Clinic: "Update on constipation: One treatment does not fit all," "Constipation."

FamilyDoctor.org: "Constipation," "Laxatives: OTC Products for Constipation."

Garvey, M. Psychosomatics, Spring 1990.

Gastroenterology: "AGA technical review on constipation."

Harvard Health Publications: "What you need to know about calcium."

Iacono, G. New England Journal of Medicine, October 15, 1998.

Johns Hopkins: "More Myths About Digestive Disorders," "Colonics: How Risky Are They?" "Symptoms and Remedies."

KidsHealth: "Expert Answers On…What Happens If I Swallow Gum," What Happens to Swallowed Gum?"

Kumar, V.  Clinical Geriatrics, May 1, 2007.

Medline Plus: "Psyllium," "Stool Softeners."

Milov, D. Pediatrics, August 1, 1998.

Müller-Lissner, S. American Journal of Gastroenterology, January 2005.

National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Sorbitol - Compound Summary."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health: "Constipation," "What I need to know about Constipation."

National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health: "Concerned About Constipation?"

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D."

PubMed Health: "Lactose Intolerance," "Stool Softeners."

University of Iowa Health Care: "Preventing Constipation," "Your Child and Constipation."

UpToDate: "Etiology and evaluation of chronic constipation in Adults," "Patient Information: Constipation in Adults," "Patient information: Blood in the stool (rectal bleeding) in adults."

Reviewed by Lisa Bernstein, MD on April 24, 2016

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.