Constipation is difficulty passing stools, prolonged intervals between stools, or a desire to defecate without the ability to do so. The consistency of stools may vary from hard, dry, and pebble-like to essentially normal and well-formed. There is a wide range of opinions about what constitutes a normal bowel pattern, and it is important to establish precisely what the patient means when describing their bowel movements. For some people, one motion per week is considered normal, while others consider themselves constipated if they only go once a day. In Chinese medicine, the baseline for "normal" is at least one unforced stool every day or every other day.

Most people will experience constipation at some point in response to changes in routine, diet, travel, or illness such as fever. This is typically temporary, and normal bowel function is restored when the person returns to their normal routine or recovers from the illness. In the clinic, constipation is most often a chronic problem related to diet, habits, and a sedentary lifestyle.

In Chinese medicine, constipation can be divided into two types: excess and deficient. Excess patterns are characterized by the presence of a persistent pathogen such as heat or phlegm, or by blockage of the qi dynamic and descent of Large Intestine qi. Deficient patterns, on the other hand, are characterized by dryness and insufficient lubrication of the Intestines due to a lack of body fluids, blood, or yin, or by a lack of force in the propulsion of stools through the digestive tract due to yang qi deficiency.