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Q.

How long can you go without a bowel movement?

Doctors define constipation as having a bowel movement less than three times per week. That doesn’t mean constipation is necessarily dangerous, just that it’s then labeled abnormal, possibly needing treatment.
 

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Internal Medicine
Emory University
131 Answers
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A.

Doctors define constipation as having a bowel movement less than three times per week. That doesn’t mean constipation is necessarily dangerous, just that it’s then labeled abnormal, possibly needing treatment.

For people who are generally healthy, constipation is almost never a serious health risk. So it’s difficult to answer the question of “how long can you go,” because if you’re generally healthy, you eventually will go, with few if any adverse effects.

People for whom constipation can have serious health effects include:

• The elderly, especially those with dementia;
• People with damage to the nerves controlling defecation, such as Hirschsprung disease or spinal cord injuries.

A general rule is, if you’re healthy and you’re not experiencing abdominal pain, a small delay between bowel movements should be of no concern. From a medical standpoint, stimulating bowel movements for their own sake (such as with “colon cleansing” or excessive laxative use) can have risks.

Constipation can result from hard stools and/or slow movement of the colon. For most healthy people with constipation, simple treatments work:

• Increased fiber intake
• Bulk-forming laxatives (Citrucel, Fiberall, Metamucil, Serutan)
• Stimulant laxatives (Alophen, Dulcolax, Ex-lax, and Senokot)
• Stool softeners (Colace, Correctol Soft Gels, Diocto, Surfak)

A few people will need prescription medicines to help get their bowels moving. If constipation isn’t causing symptoms, though, waiting for nature to take its course is the best option.

This answer should not be considered medical advice...down arrowThis answer should not be considered medical advice and should not take the place of a doctor’s visit. Please see the bottom of the page for more information or visit our Terms and Conditions.up arrow

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