Constipation: Early Signs and Treatment

July 2, 2024

Constipation is a common digestive issue that affects people of all ages. It is characterized by infrequent bowel movements, difficulty passing stool, or a sense of incomplete evacuation. Understanding the early signs of constipation and exploring effective treatments can help manage and alleviate this uncomfortable condition.

Early Signs of Constipation

Infrequent Bowel Movements

One of the earliest signs of constipation is a noticeable decrease in the frequency of bowel movements. While normal bowel habits vary from person to person, having fewer than three bowel movements per week is generally considered a sign of constipation.

Hard and Dry Stools

When stool remains in the colon for an extended period, it can become hard and dry due to excessive water absorption. Passing hard, lumpy, or pellet-like stools can indicate constipation.

Straining During Bowel Movements

Constipation often causes straining or difficulty during bowel movements. Individuals may feel the need to exert significant effort to pass stool, leading to discomfort and frustration.

Abdominal Discomfort

Constipation can cause bloating, cramping, and a sensation of fullness in the abdomen. This discomfort is often accompanied by pain or tenderness in the lower abdomen.

Sensation of Incomplete Evacuation

Even after a bowel movement, individuals with constipation may feel as though their bowels have not been completely emptied. This persistent sensation of incomplete evacuation is a common symptom of constipation.

Treatment for Constipation

Dietary Changes

Making certain dietary adjustments can help relieve constipation and promote regular bowel movements:

  • Increase Fiber Intake: Consuming more fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, can soften stool and increase its bulk, making it easier to pass. Aim for at least 25-30 grams of fiber per day.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water helps keep stool soft and prevents dehydration, which can contribute to constipation. Aim for at least eight glasses of water daily.
  • Limit Processed Foods: Processed foods high in fat and low in fiber can exacerbate constipation. Reducing the intake of such foods and focusing on whole, natural foods can improve bowel regularity.


Regular physical activity stimulates intestinal function and promotes regular bowel movements. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, jogging, or swimming, most days of the week.

Establish a Routine

Establishing a regular bowel routine can help train the body to have more predictable bowel movements. Try to set aside time each day, particularly after meals, to use the bathroom without rushing.

Over-the-Counter Remedies

Several over-the-counter remedies can provide relief for constipation:

  • Fiber Supplements: If dietary fiber intake is insufficient, fiber supplements such as psyllium or methylcellulose can help bulk up stool and facilitate bowel movements.
  • Stool Softeners: Stool softeners like docusate sodium can help soften stool and make it easier to pass, especially for those experiencing hard, dry stools.
  • Laxatives: Laxatives, such as osmotic laxatives (e.g., polyethylene glycol) or stimulant laxatives (e.g., bisacodyl), can provide temporary relief by stimulating bowel movements or drawing water into the intestines. However, they should be used sparingly and under medical supervision to avoid dependency.

Prescription Medications

For individuals with chronic or severe constipation that does not respond to lifestyle changes and over-the-counter remedies, prescription medications may be necessary. These may include:

  • Lubiprostone: This medication increases fluid secretion in the intestines, helping to soften stool and promote bowel movements.
  • Linaclotide: Linaclotide helps to increase fluid in the intestines and speed up bowel movements, providing relief for chronic constipation.

Behavioral Therapy

In some cases, behavioral therapy, such as biofeedback, may be recommended to help retrain the muscles involved in bowel movements. This therapy can be particularly beneficial for individuals with pelvic floor dysfunction or difficulty coordinating the muscles needed for effective bowel movements.


Constipation is a common and often uncomfortable condition that can significantly impact daily life. Recognizing the early signs of constipation, such as infrequent bowel movements, hard stools, and abdominal discomfort, is crucial for timely intervention. By making dietary changes, increasing physical activity, and using over-the-counter or prescription medications when necessary, individuals can effectively manage constipation and improve their overall digestive health. Consulting with a healthcare provider is essential for developing a personalized treatment plan and addressing any underlying causes of constipation.