What Causes Constipation?

That is not a question you would necessarily ask in mixed company.  Just saying the word “constipation” can be more uncomfortable than actually being constipated.  Fortunately you have options.  Reading up on causes, like you are now, and talking to your doctor are two of your best resources.

Probably the first thing to understand is the digestive process.  The system is pretty standard across the board.  Food gets eaten, the bits get reduced even further by amino acids in the stomach, nutrients are absorbed by the villi that line the small intestine, water gets absorbed by the colon (large intestine), waste is compacted and ultimately expelled.  Most will have a bowel movement once a day.  However, 3 times a week can still be considered within normal limits.

Seems simple enough.  That is until there is a hold up in the final stage.

More often than not, causes of constipation are fairly benign.  Not enough fiber, not enough water, not enough exercise.  These are all things that are easily remedied and give some constipation relief.  Fiber’s main job is to help keep your system running right.  So eat a salad or pick up a supplement, there are plenty of options for increasing your fiber intake these days.  Drinking more water is a fairly simple solution as well.  The body needs water to hydrate itself and to help waste not get too dry to move.  If you are not drinking enough water and the body has to choose between the two, it will always choose hydration first.  If you have shifted, as many do, to a more sedentary lifestyle, you may need to make sure you are getting some exercise.  Moving will help keep things…moving.  It is also best to go when your body tells you that it is time.  Waiting too long can cause stool to dry out and become difficult to pass.

Other reasons for constipation may be more biological or have medical causational factors.  If you suspect this may be the case after reading through some of the possibilities, contact your doctor to find out what your next step should be.

  • Aging happens to everyone.  As people age, muscles can weaken.  It takes muscles to eliminate waste from the body.
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) can be a study in contradictions.  Swinging from one extreme (going too much) to the other (not going enough) is a pretty common earmark of IBS.
  • Pregnancy will often cause constipation.  Whether it is from not taking in enough water, swelling or pressure that causes restriction, or some other factor, remains to be seen.  Unfortunately it can be hard to say with pregnancy.
  • Medications can play a role in constipation.  Make sure to read the contraindications on anything you are taking, including over-the-counter drugs.
  • Bowel obstructions can be the most concerning of all constipation causes.  Twists in the large intestine, polyps or tumors could be serious and need to be treated right away.

Talking about constipation is not anyone’s favorite thing but for your own comfort and peace of mind, it is best to find out what might be causing it.

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Sources  and references

  • Longstreth GF, Thompson WG, Chey WD, Houghton LA, Mearin F, Spiller RC (2006). “Functional bowel disorders”. Gastroenterology 130 (5): 1480–91.
  • wikipedia.org/wiki/Constipation
  • Constipation Relief Report