Constipation means having fewer and harder bowel movements (BMs) than usual.
A person is considered constipated when he or she has fewer than three BMs in a week; when the stool (poop) is hard, dry, and unusually large; or when it's difficult to have a BM.
Constipation is rarely due to a serious condition. Common causes include too little exercise, not completely emptying the bowel during a BM, and not having enough fluids and fiber in the diet. When constipated, someone might have abdominal (belly) pain, difficulty or straining to pass stool, and perhaps a little blood on the toilet paper after a BM because of a crack in the skin of the anus caused by the passage of hard stool.
In some kids, worry about a new situation or changes in routine (such as starting school) can cause stress and make them uncomfortable about using an unfamiliar bathroom, which can lead to constipation.
In a few cases, severe constipation can be a sign of an underlying health problem, such as lead poisoning, an underactive thyroid gland, a side effect of medications, or Hirschprung disease, a birth defect that affects the nerves that control the movement of the lower intestine.
Drinking plenty of water, eating a high-fiber diet, and getting enough exercise usually will help constipation go away on its own. It's also important to go to the toilet whenever the urge arises and not try to hold it.
While fluid, fiber, and fitness can prevent or relieve most cases of constipation, if the condition lasts more than a week or is accompanied by belly pain or vomiting, call your doctor.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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