Why Am I Getting Constipated?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 10, 2024
5 min read

Constipation is not a disease, but rather a symptom of another problem. Doctors consider constipation a condition where you:

  • Poop fewer than three times a week
  • Have hard, dry, or lumpy poop
  • Have poop that's hard or painful to pass
  • Feel like you haven't finished pooping even when you try and nothing else comes out

Your digestive system extracts nutrients from the foods you eat and drink, processes them into your bloodstream, and prepares leftover material for disposal over a few hours. That leftover material passes through about 20 feet of intestine before being stored temporarily in your colon, where water is removed.

The residue is excreted through your bowels, usually within a day or two. Constipation happens because of changes in your digestive system that slows the movement of poop through your colon. As poop sits in your colon, it becomes harder as well as more difficult to pass.

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How many times should you poop a day?

Bowel habits vary by person and depend on many different factors, such as your diet, age, and daily activity levels. What's healthy for you may not be healthy for someone else. In general, though, most people will poop anywhere between three times a day and three times a week. Your bowel habits are likely fine if your poop isn't especially hard or soft and you don't have to strain to pass it.

Constipation is a very common symptom. It can be caused by several factors, such as:

Certain medical conditions or nutritional problems, including:

  • Celiac disease
  • Functional gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Disorders that affect your brain and spine, such as Parkinson's disease
  • Injuries to your brain or spinal cord
  • Conditions that affect your metabolism, such as diabetes
  • Conditions that affect your hormones, such as hypothyroidism
  • Inflammation due to diverticular disease or proctitis
  • Pelvic floor disorders, especially in people assigned female at birth (AFAB), that lessen your ability to empty your bowels
  • Intestinal obstructions
  • Not eating enough fiber, usually because you aren't eating enough vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • Not drinking enough liquid (dehydration)
  • Not getting enough exercise

Certain medicines and supplements, including:

  • Antacids that contain aluminum and calcium
  • Anticholinergics and antispasmodics, which are used to treat muscle spasms
  • Anticonvulsants, which are medicines used to prevent seizures
  • Calcium channel blockers and diuretics, which are mostly used to treat high blood pressure
  • Iron supplements
  • Tranquilizers
  • Medicines used to treat Parkinson's disease
  • Pain medicines, especially narcotics
  • Some medicines used to treat depression

Lifestyle routines and life changes, including:

  • Getting older
  • Becoming pregnant
  • Traveling in a new area
  • Ignoring the urge to poop
  • Medication changes
  • Changing how much or what you eat

Foods that cause constipation

If you're constipated, avoid or reduce foods with little or no fiber, such as:

  • Highly processed foods, such as hot dogs and potato chips
  • Prepared foods, such as frozen meals and snack foods
  • Dairy
  • Fast food
  • Processed and higher-fat meats
  • High-fat foods, such as cheese and eggs
  • Alcohol
  • Drinks that have caffeine

Constipation in pregnancy

Constipation is common during pregnancy. Your hormone levels change to support your body during pregnancy, but unfortunately, this can also cause constipation. It may start in the second or third month of your pregnancy, but it's most likely in your third trimester — when your baby is at their heaviest and may press on your bowel. Some people may continue to feel constipated for up to 3 months after their baby is born.

There are a lot of medicines you can't take while you're pregnant, so you're doctor will likely suggest you make lifestyle changes to manage constipation during pregnancy. Some lifestyle changes you can try include:

  • Eat 25-30 grams of fiber every day from fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, and lentils. 
  • Drink 8-12 cups of water every day. When you're pregnant, it's especially important to stay hydrated. Aim for more than eight cups of water (or low-fat milk, smoothies, tea, or sugar-free juice) every day.
  • Exercise moderately for 20-30 minutes at least three times per week. It can be a challenge to stay active when you're carrying extra weight and your joints and pelvis are under strain. Ask your obstetrician for exercise recommendations that will work in your situation.
  • Try a prenatal vitamin that has less iron. Most prenatal vitamins have a lot of iron in them. It's great for the baby, but it can be tough on your digestive system. Talk to your obstetrician about switching to a different kind that's a little easier on your stomach.

If lifestyle changes don't ease your constipation after about a week, your obstetrician may recommend a laxative or fiber supplement. Don't take one without your doctor's advice because some may be dangerous for you or your baby.

Constipation is a common symptom that happens to everyone sometimes. It's caused by a lot of different factors including lifestyle habits, different life stages, certain medicines and supplements, and certain medical conditions. No matter the cause, a good way to help ease constipation is to eat plenty of fiber, drink plenty of water, and get regular moderate exercise.

How to get rid of constipation fast?

Experts recommend the following for fast relief of constipation:

  • Drink two to four extra glasses of water every day.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, juice, and high-sugar beverages.
  • Avoid processed meats, fried foods, and refined carbohydrates (such as white bread, pasta, and potatoes).
  • Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other fiber-rich foods.
  • Reduce the amount of high-fat foods you eat, such as meat, eggs, and cheese.
  • Eat prunes, bran cereal, and high-fiber fruits, such as oranges, pineapple, berries, mangos, avocados, and papaya.
  • Keep a food diary to help you figure out what's causing your constipation.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Change the way you sit on the toilet: put your feet on a stool, lean back, or squat. These positions can make pooping easier. Don't read or use your phone while you're on the toilet.
  • Don't hold it if you feel the urge to go.
  • Add supplemental fiber to your diet, such as Metamucil, MiraLAX, Citrucel, or Benefiber. Slowly build up to a regular dose or you could get diarrhea. 
  • If none of the other options work, try a mild stool softener or laxative. Ask your pharmacist or doctor which to choose because there are a lot of options out there. Don't use these for more than 2 weeks because that can make your constipation worse.

What simple trick empties your bowels?

There isn't necessarily a simple trick that empties your bowels, but making adjustments to the way you sit on the toilet can help you poop more easily. Here's what experts recommend:

  • Sit on the toilet with your feet raised on a footstool so your knees are higher than your hips. Lean forward with your forearms resting on your thighs and your legs more than hip-width apart.
  • Breathe normally and relax (don't hold your breath).
  • Bulge out your belly by bracing your belly muscles outward.
  • Relax your bowel and push from your waist backward and downward into your bowel.
  • Use your belly muscles as a pump to push gently and firmly towards your bowel. Don't strain.
  • Try for a maximum of 10 minutes. If you don't pass any poop, try again later when you have another urge to go.