Irregularity of bowels; Lack of regular bowel movements
Constipation is most often defined as having a bowel movement less than 3 times per week. It usually is associated with hard stools or difficulty passing stools. You may have pain while passing stools or may be unable to have a bowel movement after straining or pushing for more than 10 minutes.
Infants who are exclusively breastfed may go 7 days without a bowel movement.
Normal patterns of bowel elimination vary widely from person to person and you may not have a bowel movement every day. While some healthy people have consistently soft or near-runny stools, others have consistently firm stools, but no difficulty passing them.
When the stool is infrequent, or requires significant effort to pass, you have constipation. The passage of large, wide, or hard stools may tear the mucosal membrane of the anus, especially in children. This can cause bleeding and the possibility of an anal fissure.
Constipation is most often caused by:
Stress and travel can also contribute to constipation or other changes in bowel habits.
Other causes of constipation may include:
Constipation in children often occurs if they hold back bowel movements when they aren't ready for toilet training or are afraid of it.
Camilleri M. Disorders of gastrointestinal motility. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 138.
Wyllie R. Motility disorders and Hirschsprung disease. In: Kliegman RM, Jenson HP, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 329.
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