Bowel Function

Constipation is a condition in which there are fewer than three bowel movements a week or bowel movements with stools that are hard, dry, and small, making them painful or difficult to pass1.

Occasional constipation, or difficulty having bowel movements, happens to many people,2 and affects up to 63 million people in North America. Those who suffer with constipation more persistently may be affected by chronic constipation. Chronic constipation may be diagnosed by a doctor if symptoms last for three months or more, including passing fewer than three stools per week3.

Chronic constipation can be caused by many things, and sometimes the exact cause is unknown. Blockages in the colon or rectum, problems with the nerve signals or muscles of the rectum and colon, or changes in hormones can be some of the possible causes. Up to 15% of the population experiences chronic constipation2.

While it is important to rule out causes related to other more serious diseases, such as cancer, that might be causing a blockage, specific risk factors for chronic constipation include low dietary fibre, dehydration, and low levels of physical activity. Certain medications can also lead to chronic constipation. Some people who suffer from chronic constipation are able to manage their symptoms through lifestyle and dietary changes.5 Those afflicted with chronic constipation should consider increasing their daily amount of exercise, getting sufficient fluid intake and trying to eat up to 30 grams of fibre a day6.

  1. El-Salhy et al. MOLECULAR MEDICINE REPORTS 9: 3-8, 2014
  2. Higgins PD, Johanson JF. Epidemiology of constipation in North America: a systematic review. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2004;99:750–759.​
  3. Lacy et al. Ther Adv Gastroenterol (2012) 5(4) 233–247
  4. American Gastroenterological Association Medical Position Statement on Constipation. GASTROENTEROLOGY 2013;144:211–217
  5. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fibre, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). (2005)
  6. National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board.
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Only about one third of patients suffering from chronic constipation consult a physician.

Chronic constipation for three months or more is unpleasant, but treatments are available and should be discussed with a physician.

Source: Sanchez MI, Bercik P. Epidemiology and burden of chronic constipation. Can J Gastroenterol. 2011 Oct;25 Suppl B:11B-15B.



Dehydration is one of the common causes of chronic constipation. Drinking enough fluids each day can help make bowel movements easier.



One way to manage symptoms of chronic constipation is to increase dietary fibre. There are certain foods that can help increase daily fibre intake. These include not only whole grains, but also fruits (fresh and dried), vegetables, beans, peas and potatoes with skins. Eating foods like these prepared with appetizing recipes can help to increase the amount of fibre intake, while making it enjoyable.



Many types of exercise may be helpful in reducing the symptoms of chronic constipation. Exercise can help by causing food to move through the digestive system more efficiently.

Source: Johannesson E, Simrén M, Strid H, Bajor A and Sadik R: Physical activity improves symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Gastroenterol 106: 915 922, 2011.