9 Common Symptoms of Constipation

by Mandy Patterson Patient Expert

Constipation is generally described as having fewer than three bowel movements in a week, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), although what’s normal for you may vary. But did you know that if you’re constipated, you might also have other symptoms? This slideshow describes the most common symptoms that accompany constipation.

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What causes constipation?

There are a few reasons why you might be constipated, according to the NIH. The most common causes include slow movement of stool, delayed emptying of your colon due to pelvic floor disorders, and gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Read on to learn more about the common symptoms of constipation.

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Bloating and gas

If you’re constipated, your intestines typically start swelling because stool is stuck and gains bulk. Because of this, the gas your body normally produces gets trapped behind the stool. This causes bloating and can cause your stomach to appear distended.

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Abdominal pain

Abdominal pain is a normal side effect of constipation, according to the American Family Physician. You feel pain in your abdomen when you’re constipated due to the bloating and gas. Trapped pockets of gas can become surprisingly painful, and hardened stool can cause painful pressure.

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Hemorrhoids

When you’re constipated, you might find yourself straining during your bowel movements to push out the stool. This straining can cause swelling of veins, arteries, or tissue around the anus and/or rectum called hemorrhoids. These can be internal or external and can also cause anal itching, a small amount of blood after wiping, and pain during bowel movements.

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Changes in stool appearance

Most people think constipation means not having bowel movements at all. However, you can still have bowel movements while you’re constipated—it just won’t look the same. Stool will often be hard and pebble-like. You may also be able to go a little, but not empty completely.

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Changes in frequency

Most people think constipation means not having bowel movements at all, the NIH says. But this isn’t the case. You can still have bowel movements when you’re constipated. You might notice there are days between your bowel movements, or instead of going your normal three times a day, you only go once.

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Lethargy and fatigue

Being constipated can cause you to not feel very well. You can even become tired and lethargic. This is because you may be dehydrated, or the cause of your constipation may also contribute to your fatigue.

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Decreased appetite

If you’re constipated, you will most likely feel prematurely full, . This happens because the stool is backed up in your intestines, and you’re probably experiencing quite a bit of trapped gas as well. This decrease in appetite can also contribute to feelings of lethargy as your body works to try and remove the food already in your tract.

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Back pain

Back pain can be experienced if you’re dealing with constipation, according to the NIH. Typically, back pain will be in your lower to mid-back. This is because your stool can be trapped in your lower intestines, and any pressure or gas can push against your back.

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Next steps to treat constipation

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, in addition to being constipated, contact your doctor. They might recommend some over-the-counter constipation relief measures to get you back to feeling normal. If those treatments don’t solve the problem, your doctor may test you for other digestive health issues.

Mandy Patterson
Meet Our Writer
Mandy Patterson

Mandy is a patient expert and advocate for ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease. She started down the road to advocacy after receiving an ulcerative colitis diagnosis in 2013, after experiencing complications of UC since 2010. She’s a full-time technical writer and technical writing instructor for Missouri State University, where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in professional writing. For her master’s thesis she wrote about the quality patient education materials for those diagnosed with UC, and the need for technical writers in the IBD medical field. Mandy is a Social Ambassador for the IBD HealthCentral Facebook page.