Constipation is difficult to define, and what one person regards as constipation, another person may regard as normal. Some people think they are constipated if they do not have a poo every day, but this is not necessarily the case. We tend to think one bowel motion a day is healthy, but this is because of the way we have trained ourselves. Actually, our bodies are designed to have a poo more often. Primates such as chimps and monkeys pass soft stools several times a day.
Do You Have Chronic Constipation?
Short-lived episodes of constipation are not unusual for people and do not signify anything is wrong. Such an episode often gets better on its own and is related to recent lifestyle changes, stress or new medication etc. However, chronic constipation is a different condition and may be present if:
- Your poo may be hard, lumpy, and either large and infrequent (for example passed every 7–10 days), or small and relatively frequent (for example passed every 2–3 days).
- You have a poo three times a week or less
- You have to strain to have a poo
- You need to use ‘manual maneuvers’ such as supporting your pelvic floor or using your finger to help evacuation
- An average person on a typical Western diet passes about 150 g (5 oz) of poo each day. Poo consist of about one-third solids and two-thirds water
- The solid matter in poo is cellulose from vegetables, dead cells cast off from the lining of the gut, bacteria, some salts and pigment from bile (which gives the brown colour)
- Most of the waste matter from food is passed out in the poo within 72 hours, but in healthy people up to 30% may remain in the colon for a week or more
- Pooing is a very efficient process, normally taking only 10 seconds. Presumably it has to be quick – animals (and primitive man) cannot run from a predator easily if they are in the middle of pooing. This is probably why it is even quicker when we are frightened
- In the USA, $1.43 billion were spent on laxatives in 2019
- Constipation results in more than 2–5 million visits to doctors in the USA each year
- About 4,500,000 people in the USA say they are constipated most or all of the time (National Health Interview Survey)
- In a UK survey, 6% of people said they had suffered from constipation in the past year, 13% had some difficulty in having a poo at least once a month, and 19% took laxatives at some time. Slightly higher figures have also been reported elsewhere
First published on: embarrassingproblems.com
Reviewed and edited by: Dr Kevin Barrett
Last updated: October 2020