Constipation is when a person has difficulty passing bowel movements, which can be hard, lumpy, and dry. Constipation may cause abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, and other symptoms.

This article looks at what constipation feels like and when to contact a doctor. It also explores the diagnosis, causes, treatments, and possible complications of constipation.

A problem in one or more pathways that stool travels through may cause constipation. This can include problems in the nerves or muscles involved in passing stool. Hard, slow-moving stools may not move easily through the bowel.

Constipation may cause a variety of symptoms, including:

Learn about types of constipation.

A person should contact a doctor if they experience constipation and the following symptoms:

A person should also contact a doctor if their symptoms do not go away after treatment or if they have a family history of rectal or colon cancer.

A doctor typically relies on a person’s history and symptoms to diagnose constipation. A healthcare professional may also perform a physical examination. This may involve an examination of the rectum with a gloved finger to determine whether stool is present, how much is there, and what its consistency is.

A doctor will ask questions to determine the cause of constipation. Questions may focus on:

  • symptoms
  • someone’s personal and family medical history
  • a person’s diet and exercise habits

A doctor will typically perform a further physical examination, which may involve:

A doctor may also order or administer various other tests to determine the cause of a person’s constipation. These can include:

Constipation usually occurs when stool moves through the digestive tract more slowly than usual. The body then absorbs too much water from the stool, leaving it dry and hard.

There are many potential causes of constipation — some of these can begin in the rectum or colon, while others may have external causes.

Factors that can contribute to constipation include:

A person may be able to treat constipation at home. In other cases, they may require treatment from a doctor depending on the severity and cause.


A person can treat constipation by:

Learn about high fiber foods.

Medical treatment

In severe or chronic cases, doctors can treat constipation by:

In some cases, constipation may lead to further health issues. Possible complications of constipation can include:

Constipation can cause various symptoms, such as pain and discomfort in the abdomen, bloating, heaviness, and nausea. People with it may also feel that a stool remains in the rectum and cannot pass.

A person should contact a doctor if they experience constant pain in their abdomen, blood in the stool, fever, lower back pain, and the inability to pass gas.

Often, individuals can treat constipation at home with OTC medications. A high fiber diet, increased fluid intake, and regular exercise may help prevent constipation.

In severe or chronic cases, doctors can prescribe medication to treat constipation or recommend surgery to treat rectal prolapse.

Without treatment, constipation can lead to complications, such as hemorrhoids, anal fissures, bowel incontinence, and volvulus, which is a twisting of the intestines.