10 constipation causes
Constipation is a common condition that may affect up to 20% of the public at any given time.[] Although constipation is often a normal, harmless phenomenon, it can also be a symptom of something more serious. The slowing or stopping of bowel movements for extended periods causes discomfort, lethargy, and sometimes serious health problems, which may require a doctor’s intervention. Knowing what causes this unpleasant condition can be a step toward preventing it. These 10 constipation causes are some of the most common reasons people have trouble moving their bowels.
Lack of Fiber
Dietary fiber is an essential part of a person’s daily food intake, but sometimes people don’t get enough of it. People get fiber from eating roughage, whole wheat, and high-fiber fruit, such as apples. Fiber is largely indigestible[], which allows it to move mostly intact through the digestive tract and add bulk to the fecal mass as it exits the body. Large amounts of fiber give the intestines something to move, and not having it is one of the more common constipation causes.
The GI tract can be sensitive to body disruptions, and sudden or drastic lifestyle changes have a profound effect throughout the body. Suddenly switching from a day shift to a night shift, for example, can disrupt the body’s natural rhythm and interfere with normal bowel function. Life events, such as divorce, the loss of a loved one, or other stressful situations, may also cause temporary constipation that can often be relieved with over-the-counter laxatives.
There are many reasons a person might fight the urge to move their bowels. It might not be a good time, such as when a person is at work, or it might be that no adequate facilities are nearby, such as on a road trip. Done once in a while, this usually isn’t a problem and the urge to defecate can be resisted for a little bit. If this becomes habitual, however, the fecal mass might get harder to move, causing constipation.[]
Anxiety or Depression
Anxiety and depression are closely linked disorders, and they have effects all over the body. Constipation may be one of the symptoms of mood or emotional disturbances directly, or it might be the result of an anxiety-related behavior change.[] A person with depression might, for example, struggle with such a profound emotional dislocation that the normal movement of the bowels is interrupted, or a very anxious person might fight the urge to defecate long enough to cause a problem.
Colon cancer usually isn’t the cause of a person being constipated, and it shouldn’t be the first thing a person thinks about when looking for the causes of constipation. However, it can be a factor.[] Colon cancer usually starts as growths called polyps in the colon, which may get in the way of normal bowel function. While this isn’t the leading cause of constipation, people should be alert to the other symptoms of colorectal cancer and get regular screenings.
The lower GI tract needs a healthy amount of blood flow and high levels of exercise to function properly, and both of these can be interrupted by long periods of lethargy or immobility. People who don’t get enough exercise are prone to constipation, as the normal movements of the bowels slow down and even stop from sheer lack of activity.[] Starting a low-impact exercise routine may be an effective treatment if mobility is the primary cause of a person’s constipation.
Lack of Fluids
Digested food matter passes through the large intestine on its way out of the body. While there, the lining of the colon absorbs a large amount of water back from the waste and recirculates it in the body. If a person isn’t getting enough fluids, this process might go too far and produce a very dry, hard mass that’s too difficult to move along. Drinking fluids and using a stool softener can usually help.
People with a fever often experience constipation as a side symptom of their illness.[] Fever causes dehydration, which can make stools harder. Additionally, the always-sensitive GI tract may slow down during periods of whole-body inflammation, possibly to save energy for fighting the disease. If a fever only lasts a few days, constipation might not become a serious issue. However, constipation that lasts several days often causes discomfort and may extend the length of the illness.
The digestive system is deeply involved with nutrition and food intake, and being over or underweight can cause issues. Being too far outside the normal weight range, on either side, can make constipation more likely to occur and harder to resolve.[] Treatment for both varies with the type of issue causing the problem and its severity. A doctor can work with obese or underweight patients to develop a treatment plan that should also relieve constipation.
Abuse or Trauma
People handle abuse and traumatic events differently, and the disturbances to the body and emotional state these events cause can easily trigger a bout of constipation. This may be temporary, or it can be persistent and frequent. If constipation is caused by trauma or abuse, it can be temporarily relieved by over-the-counter laxatives. However, long-term care is needed to address the underlying causes of constipation caused by trauma.