If you have constant trouble with your bowel movement, maybe it's time to seek medical help as chronic constipation may be a sign of an underlying medical condition. This Constipation Awareness Month, an expert shares common causes and preventive measures to improve bowel movement.

Chronic constipation is a long-term condition characterized by recurrent, difficult and painful bowel movements that are often infrequent and seemingly incomplete. The condition affects around 20% of adults and 16% of children in the U.S.

While occasional constipation is not a cause of concern and may be resolved with diet and lifestyle adjustments, some people might need additional support from over-the-counter fiber supplements, laxatives or prescription medication.

"Constipation can be caused by many factors including the medications you are taking, lack of movement, not meeting your hydration needs, inadequate fiber intake, medical conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, slow gut motility, ignoring the urge to use the restroom, eating disorders, pregnancy or hormonal changes, or abuse of laxatives," Samina Qureshi, a registered dietitian and owner of Wholesome Start, a nutrition counseling practice in Houston, told Medical Daily.

According to Qureshi, finding relief from constipation involves maintaining a balance between the intake of fiber-rich food and the quantity of water, coupled with regular physical activity.

"The key to avoiding constipation is to include a variety of fiber-rich foods in your diet while staying adequately hydrated. Any time you increase the fiber in your diet from either food or supplement form, make sure you are meeting your hydration needs to avoid making your constipation and digestive symptoms worse. You may also find that participating in gentle forms of physical activity such as walking can also help to speed up your GI motility and help with bowel regularity," Qureshi explained.

The type of food a person needs to include or avoid in the diet depends on what causes irregularity in their bowel movement. If lack of fiber is the cause, Qureshi recommends including kiwi fruit, dragon fruit, prunes, dried apricots, chia seeds and oats into the diet. However, if a person has issues related to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), they should reduce the amount of fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs) to avoid symptoms such as bloating, gas and stomach pain.

If left untreated, chronic constipation increases the risk of complications, including hemorrhoids, fissures and bowel inconsistency. Sometimes, constipation can be a sign of serious health conditions such as IBS, intestinal obstruction and colon cancer.

Consulting a registered dietician can help a person identify what triggers their condition and formulate a tailor-made diet to meet their nutritional needs. The right time to seek medical help is when a person feels the condition is impacting their daily life, Qureshi said.

"If you struggle to have fewer than three spontaneous bowel movements per week, are regularly straining to use the restroom, have hard or lumpy stools, don't feel like you've had a complete evacuation, or are regularly relying on laxatives without any relief it may be time to speak with your health care provider about constipation," she said.