But if you're experiencing discomfort and can't make your bowels move, try an over-the-counter remedy like good old milk of magnesia, he says. And whether you've tried laxatives or not, going a week without a bowel movement is good reason to visit the doc, says Sandler. Constipation, hard stools, and straining could lead to hemorrhoids or an anal fissure.
Constipation is best avoided through regular exercise and a diet high in fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. To older folks, who tend to get constipated more frequently: Be sure you're hydrating properly and aware of any medications that might be causing the holdup.
[See What Your Poo Says About You.]
Updated on 09/05/2012: This article was originally published on November 19, 2008. It has been updated by Angela Haupt.