May 05, 2015 8:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

It’s not something we like to talk about, but constipation happens—to some people more than others. It is three times more common in women than men and the likelihood increases with age.  

“Everybody is different, and it’s considered ‘normal’ to have as many as three bowel movements daily to only three per week,” says Matthew Steenblik, MD, a gastroenterologist at University of Utah Health. “If you have fewer than three, you’re probably constipated.”

The good news: Constipation is usually avoidable through diet and lifestyle changes. Here are four of the top causes for constipation and tips for preventing it.

family health constipation digestion



Consuming low-fiber, high-fat foods, such as cheese, meat, eggs, chocolate and processed foods, can cause constipation. Prevention tip: “Avoid the culprits and increase your fiber intake to 25–30 grams daily. Beans, vegetables and fruit are great sources of fiber. For some, the addition of an over-the-counter fiber supplement can help,” Steenblik adds.


Water helps move your food through your intestines and aids in digestion. Prevention tip: “The addition of water to increased daily fiber intake gives the best results. And as summer approaches, remember to drink more water on our hotter days,” Steenblik says.


Physically inactive people are more likely to be constipated than those who are active. Being active helps keep your digestive system moving. Prevention tip: Get up and move. “Aim for 150 minutes of exercise weekly,” Steenblik suggests.


“Some painkillers, antidepressants, blood pressure medicines, antihistamines and even vitamins can cause constipation,” Steenblik says. Prevention tip: Talk with your doctor before starting or abruptly stopping any new medicine. Discuss whether stool softeners may be right for you.

Is your child backed up? On this episode of The Scope, Cindy Gellner, M.D., a pediatrician at University of Utah Health Care, explains some tricks to help keep your kids’ bowels moving. 

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