The term constipation is used to describe the slow movement of unduly firm contents through the large bowel leading to infrequent passing of small hard stools. Thus "constipation" may indicate several different signs among which are:
– bowel movements which do not occur daily
– dry stools
– difficult defaecation
– abnormal shape of stools.
Views on what constitutes constipation vary widely. It is not infrequent to hear doctors saying, quite wrongly, that it does not matter if one has a bowel movement only twice a week. On the other hand, some naturopaths believe that it is normal and desirable to have up to four bowel movements a day.
The quantity of stools passed varies from culture to culture. Similarly, the transit time of the stools in the bowel averages 1.5 days in rural Africa and 3 days in Western countries. Interestingly, constipation has affected Western societies for a long time.
Normally, the bowels should open every day and the stools should be light-brown in colour, roughly cylindrical in shape and a few inches long.