Eating Well As You Get Older

Frequently Asked Questions

26. What can I do about constipation?

You may be constipated if you are having fewer bowel movements than usual and your stools are firm and hard to pass. Older people are more likely than younger people to become constipated, but most of the time it’s not serious. If you're often constipated, ask your doctor for advice. Here are some ways to relieve constipation.

(Watch the video to learn more about ways to relieve constipation. To enlarge the video, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner. To reduce the video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

  • Pay attention to your natural urges. Ignoring an urge to have a bowel movement can lead to constipation. Some people prefer to have bowel movements at home. But holding in a bowel movement can cause constipation if the delay is too long.
  • Stay hydrated. Be sure to get enough fluids. Without fluids, constipation can get worse. Drinking enough water and other fluids, such as fruit and vegetable juices and clear soups, can help you have regular bowel movements. Talk with your doctor about how much water you should drink each day.
  • Eat more foods that contain fiber. Add fiber to your diet by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, either cooked or raw, and more whole-grain cereals and breads. Dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes, and figs, are high in fiber. Be sure to add fiber to your diet a little at a time so that your body gets used to the change. Try not to eat too many foods with little or no fiber such as cheese, chips, fast food, ice cream, meat and processed foods.

    See “Eating, Diet, and Nutrition for Constipation.”
  • Be physically active on a regular basis. Physical activity can help keep your bowel movements more regular, too. Do things that keep you moving and active. For example, go for walks Find physical things that you enjoy doing, and make them a part of your everyday life.

    To see examples of exercises for older adults, see Exercises to Try. Or visit Go4Life®, the exercise and physical activity campaign for older adults from the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
  • Discuss your medications with your doctor. Some medicines can cause constipation. If you’re taking an over-the-counter or prescription medicine or supplement that can cause constipation, your doctor may suggest you stop taking it or switch to a different one.
  • Consider the use of bulk-forming products. Bulk-forming agents absorb fluid in your intestines, making your stool bulkier. Bulkier stool helps trigger the bowel to contract and push stool out. Talk to your doctor about using these products.
  • Consider the occasional use of laxatives. Your doctor may suggest using a laxative for a short time if you’re doing all the right things and are still constipated. Your doctor will tell you what type of laxative is best for you. Over-the-counter laxatives come in many forms, including liquid, tablet, capsule, powder, and granules.

For more information, see Concerned About Constipation, an Age Page from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at NIH.