Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Treating and Preventing Constipation


FREE PREVIEW. AAFP members and paid subscribers: Log in to get free access. All others: Purchase online access.

FREE PREVIEW. Purchase online access to read the full version of this article.

Am Fam Physician. 2015 Sep 15;92(6):online.

  See related article on constipation in older adults

What is constipation?

Constipation is when you feel like you are not able to have a complete bowel movement. You can also have hard stool, stomach pain, bloating, or swelling.

How is it treated and prevented?

  • When you feel like you need to have a bowel movement, go to the bathroom right away.

  • Try to have a bowel movement right after a meal.

  • Try sitting on the toilet with your feet on a short footrest. This position may make it easier to have a bowel movement.

  • Eat more fiber. Foods that are high in fiber are whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. You can also take fiber supplements, such as Metamucil. You should try to eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day.

  • Drink more fluids. This can help the fiber to work better.

  • Take a stool softener every day.

  • If you still have trouble having a bowel movement, take an over-the-counter laxative, such as polyethylene glycol (Miralax).

When should I see the doctor?

  • If you see blood in your bowel movement, which can be a sign of a more serious problem

  • If the recommendations listed here do not help

  • If you are older than 50 years and have not been screened for colon cancer

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2015 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions

CME Quiz

More in AFP

Editor's Collections


Oct 15, 2016

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article