9 Myths About Constipation You Should Know

by Mandy Patterson Patient Expert

A lot of us deal with constipation — regardless of whether we have preexisting digestive health issues like irritable bowel syndrome or not. But when it comes to constipation and your bowel movements, how do you know what’s normal? Here, we bust the top myths about constipation to provide you with the facts.

Flushing a toilet.

Myth: You must have a bowel movement every day or you’re constipated

Fact: There is no strict definition for what constitutes a normal number of bowel movements. Everyone has a unique schedule for when they have a bowel movement. Some go twice a day, and other may only go three times a week. But if you notice an obvious change in your normal bowel habits, you might be experiencing constipation.

Man with a magnifying glass.

Myth: If you can release some stool, you’re not really constipated

Fact: You may still be able to have a bowel movement when you’re constipated. However, your stool won’t look the same, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Your stool will be harder and look similar to pebbles. It can also be very painful to pass stool, or you might find yourself straining to pass stool.

Large crowd of people.

Myth: Not many people experience constipation

Fact: Constipation, including chronic constipation, is more common than people realize. Up to 42 million Americans experience constipation, making it one of the most prevalent gastrointestinal problems. Chronic constipation affects approximately 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Oatmeal with nuts and pears.

Myth: Eating a high-fiber diet will prevent constipation

Fact: A high-fiber diet doesn’t guarantee you will never experience constipation. It’s important to consume high-fiber foods to treat constipation, but a high-fiber diet won’t necessarily prevent it. There are many factors that can cause constipation, according to the NIH, such as certain medications, neurological disorders, and psychological issues.

Healthy foods, stethoscope, and dumbbells.

Myth: Constipation will naturally work itself out

Fact: Most people need additional help to regulate their system to work out the kinks of constipation. While some people might work through constipation on their own, others must try a combination of medication, lifestyle, and diet changes.

Grandfather and grandson.

Myth: Only older people experience constipation frequently

Fact: Constipation doesn’t discriminate based on age. People of all ages will experience constipation for a variety of reasons. While constipation does become more common as you get older, it can happen at any stage of your life.

Woman experiencing stomach pain.

Myth: Constipation isn’t a serious health issue

Fact: Constipation can be very serious. Untreated constipation can cause painful hemorrhoids and anal fissures. It can also greatly impact a person’s quality of life due to uncomfortable and persistent symptoms, such as fatigue, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. Additionally, it might also be a sign of other gastrointestinal complications that need to be treated.

Woman drinking a glass of water.

Myth: Upping your water intake treats constipation

Fact: If anything, drinking more water will just make you have to urinate more. Drinking more water won’t flush out your bowels if you’re already constipated. Make sure that you’re drinking enough water, regardless of constipation, and are keeping yourself hydrated, says the NIH. If you’re drinking more water regularly, before constipation happens, you may be less likely to have the problem in the first place.

Patient talking to a doctor.

Myth: You don’t need any assistance to get over constipation

Fact: You should consult your doctor if you think you’re experiencing constipation. Your doctor can recommend the best over-the-counter treatments to help relieve your constipation and get you back to feeling normal.

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.