Constipation is a common problem, affecting about 15 percent of people worldwide. The condition can become chronic, affecting lifestyle and well-being.

A 2020 study from Brazil found that constipation reduced the ability of some women to function, particularly in terms of mobility and self-care.

In addition to being a stand-alone symptom, constipation can also be a primary symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This condition is diagnosed based on a collection of symptoms that last at least 3 months. More women than men receive a diagnosis of IBS.

Whatever the cause of your constipation, there are many changes you can make to improve your health and well-being. There are also many common mistakes to avoid.

Looking out for these potential pitfalls can help you better manage your condition.

The symptoms are a bit different depending on whether you have functional constipation or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Many doctors recognize that the signs of the two conditions overlap.

Constipation associated with IBS is characterized by abdominal pain that usually gets better after a bowel movement.

People with functional constipation, on the other hand, may find it hard to evacuate their bowels completely. They may have infrequent bowel movements, fewer than three per week, and strain to defecate. Both groups may experience hard or lumpy stools.

Diet and lifestyle changes can often improve symptoms of constipation — and some things can stop you from finding relief.

Here are six examples of common activities that can make constipation worse.

Fiber can be an important part of any diet. But for people with constipation, the type of fiber matters.

Insoluble fiber, like bran, may actually make constipation worse. Soluble fiber, like psyllium, can improve constipation symptoms.

Even if you’re taking the right kind of fiber, you may be increasing too much too quickly. Slowly increasing the amount of fiber in your diet over a few weeks can prevent bloating, gas, and cramping, all of which may make IBS pain harder to manage.

Research from 2017 recommends increasing fiber by no more than 5 grams per day to give your body time to adjust.

The general recommendation for people with IBS is to limit alcohol intake, aiming for regular days without drinking. Older research from 2010 found that alcohol worsened symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and IBS.

Alcohol can lead to an increase in urination, which can cause dehydration. Not having enough fluids can also cause constipation.

The connection between alcohol and gastrointestinal symptoms is a bit complicated.

Research from 2016 found that beverages with high concentrations of alcohol of 15 percent or more slowed down intestinal movement, but lower alcohol concentrations made bowel emptying more rapid.

Stress can make life more challenging, and it can also make IBS worse. There’s a connection between stress and IBS symptoms: People with IBS also have greater levels of stress than those without IBS.

Mental health concerns, like stress, anxiety, and depression, can also lead to constipation, even if you don’t live with IBS. Taking time for leisure and relaxation can help your mind and body and may help reduce symptoms of constipation.

Laxatives can be an important part of treating and managing constipation for people with or without IBS.

Some people may fear they become dependent on laxatives, but this isn’t a concern for everyone. Many people can temporarily use laxatives to relieve constipation on the advice of a pharmacist or doctor.

But sometimes using laxatives too often can make constipation worse.

Your body’s own ability to have a comfortable bowel movement may be compromised because of the frequent use of laxatives. These medications may also cause diarrhea. Your doctor should monitor any long-term use of laxatives.

Recent research shows that exercise can help improve IBS symptoms. Examples include moderate to vigorous activity, like walking or cycling, for 20 to 60 minutes per day over 3 to 5 days a week. Movement exercise, like yoga, can also make IBS symptoms less severe.

Exercise can help reduce the stress that can worsen IBS. Becoming more physically active can help prevent constipation, even if you don’t also live with IBS. Not exercising can make it more challenging to relieve IBS and its effects.

Constipation is a symptom, not a condition in and of itself. By talking with your doctor, you can find out the cause of your constipation.

If constipation is not because of IBS, it may be the result of medication, diet, or any number of other causes.

Your doctor can recommend lifestyle changes or medications that can help you find relief. If you do live with IBS, your doctor can help you get the right diagnosis. They can also provide the specialized knowledge you may need to improve your symptoms.

Constipation, whether or not caused by IBS, is often treatable with diet and lifestyle changes.

Developing a good relationship with your doctor can also help you find the root cause of constipation. Your doctor can recommend medications and management plans that help you reduce pain and discomfort.