Q Does not having a daily bowel movement indicate constipation?
A It isn't essential to have a bowel movement every day--a normal range varies from three times a day to three times a week depending on the individual-but this old-fashioned theory still leads people to self-treat themselves with over-the-counter laxatives that may not be necessary.
As to constipation, this is defined as having a bowel movement less than three times a week and passing stools that are hard, dry and small in size, and difficult to eliminate. Most older adults experience this at some point and usually it is related to a poor diet, dehydration, lack of physical activity, medications (including those used to treat high blood pressure, Parkinson's disease, and antidepressants), and health problems such as stroke, diabetes and an underactive thyroid. However, any new onset of constipation could be a symptom of disease, so if you experience a sudden change in your bowel habits, alert your doctor.
Cutting back on fats (diets like the Atkins, which is high in cheese, eggs and meat, are linked to a higher risk of constipation) and boosting the amount of fiber (in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) you consume can help prevent and ease constipation by bulking and softening stools. Drink plenty of fluids, as these also soften stools (limit caffeinated beverages, as these can worsen constipation by causing dehydration).Try dietary changes before laxatives, since using these long term can make the body reliant on them, raising the risk of rebound constipation. They also can interfere with the absorption of medications. Talk with your doctor about which laxative might work best for you.
Patricia Bloom, MD