Constipation: definition
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Constipation: definition

Definition of constipation in adults

Normal bowel habits may vary from as many as three bowel movements a day to as few as one every three days.1

Constipation is defined as a decrease in stool frequency (less than 3 bowel movements per week) and is associated with difficult evacuation or emptying of your bowels.1,2

Constipation is a common gastrointestinal disorder, it is a symptom, not a disease.1,3  

Whilst constipation itself is not a life-threatening condition and it can be managed at primary healthcare level, it is associated with a negative impact on your quality of life.1

Occasional constipation is usually due to a change in daily habits and lifestyle (travel, dietary changes, lack of physical activity), advanced age, poor food intake with low dietary fibre, poor fluid intake or from withholding / ignoring a bowel movement.1,2,3

What you may feel in a case of occasional constipation

Constipation may result in:1,3,4  

  • Infrequent stools
  • Feeling of incomplete expulsion of the stool
  • Straining and difficulty with stool evacuation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Cramps
  • Hard stools
  • Pain during defaecation

Constipation in numbers   

More prevalence constipation among women
More prevalence constipation among women

Constipation in adults affects twice as many women as men.4 Constipation is also common during pregnancy.4

20% of the population suffers from constipation
20% of the population suffers from constipation

The prevalence of constipation is estimated to be about 20 % in the general population.1

Elder are more likely to suffer from constipation

The South African Gastroenterology Society (SAGES) reports that older adults are five times more likely to report problems with constipation. Constipation increases with age.3

1: Sibanda M, Meyer JC, et al. Chronic constipation in adults. S Afr Pharm J. 2018;85(1):34-42.
2: Chassagne P, Ducrotte P, et al. Tolerance and Long-Term Efficacy of Polyethylene Glycol 4000 (FORLAX®) Compared to Lactulose in Elderly Patients with Chronic Constipation. J Nutr Health Aging 2017;21(4):429-439.
3: South African Gastroenterology Society (SAGES). Constipation. [Internet]. Available from: (Accessed 18 October 2018).
4: NHS inform. Constipation. [Internet]. 2018. Available from: (Accessed 6 October 2018).