2016-06-16 17:01:50 UTC

Constipation 103: When to Call Your Doctor

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Bowel Movements: What Is “Normal”?


  • You do not need to have a bowel movement every day.
  • Each person has a different normal bowel function.
  • The frequency of bowel movements in healthy people varies from three movements a day to three a week.
  • Stools should be passed without too much effort, straining or pain with passage.
  • You must figure out what a normal bowel routine is for you. Try keeping a journal.

Most people have short periods of constipation at some point. Most of the time, it can be helped through diet, drinking more water, exercise and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. If you are feeling constipated, try those first.

Sometimes, though, it doesn’t go away or keeps coming back. You should talk to your doctor about your constipation when:

  • Your symptoms last longer than three weeks.
  • Your symptoms are really bad or disabling.
  • You have bad stomach pain when you pass stool.
  • You notice that your stools are consistently thinner.
  • You see blood in your stool, particularly if it is mixed with stool or you notice that your rectal bleeding (blood on the toilet paper) does not go away or comes back often.
  • Your stools are black.
  • You are found to have anemia (low iron in your blood, which can make you feel weak and tired.)
  • Along with other symptoms, you start losing weight without trying to.

When you talk to your doctor, tell them about all medications, even OTC drugs, you are taking, as they could be a cause of constipation. 

Your doctor will decide if tests are needed to figure out if your constipation is the symptom of an underlying health problem. 


© AGA, September 2017

©AGA, July 2016

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