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Relieving Chronic Constipation

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What Causes Constipation?

Medically Reviewed By Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C

Constipation is a symptom, not a disease. That means something else is causing irregular bowel movements. Here are nine common reasons why you can’t always go.

There are many possible causes of constipation, including underlying health conditions and behavioral habits. Examples include not eating enough fiber, certain medications, and celiac disease. Many factors and body systems help control your bowels, so many conditions can contribute to constipation. However, sometimes the cause of constipation is unknown.

Talk with a doctor if you have constipation or any questions about its causes and treatment.

This article explains the possible causes of constipation.

1. Diet

Someone stands and drinks water from a plastic bottle.
Olga Rolenko/Getty Images

Certain dietary habits may cause constipation.

Lack of fiber

Not getting enough fiber in your diet may lead to constipation. Foods that contain fiber include:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • beans, peas, and other legumes
  • nuts and seeds
  • whole grain foods

Learn more about the foods highest in fiber.

Dehydration

Dehydration, or not drinking enough fluids, can cause constipation.

The amount of fluids you need to drink each day varies widely per person and circumstances, such as based on your:

  • age
  • body size
  • sex assigned at birth
  • activity levels
  • underlying health

Talk with a doctor or a registered dietitian for personalized advice about how much you should drink.

Read more about dehydration symptoms and treatment.

2. Lack of physical activity

Not getting enough physical activity can contribute Trusted Source National Institute on Aging Governmental authority Go to source to constipation.

For example, long periods of inactivity after a medical procedure can make it harder to pass bowel movements.

3. Changes in routine

Changes in your typical daily routine may lead Trusted Source National Institute on Aging Governmental authority Go to source to constipation. Examples of routine changes that may play a role in constipation include:

  • traveling
  • changing your eating times
  • not having access to the bathroom at the usual times
  • getting less physical activity
  • changing your diet

4. Ignoring the urge

Going to the bathroom when you feel the urge can reinforce the reflexes that help you pass bowel movements.

If you frequently ignore the urge to pass a bowel movement or delay going to the bathroom, you may develop constipation. Ignoring the urge may change your reflexes and how the muscles work.

5. Medications

Many medications and supplements may cause or worsen constipation for some people. Examples include:

  • antacids containing aluminum and calcium
  • anticholinergic and antispasmodic medications, which are used to help treat muscle problems
  • Parkinson’s disease medications
  • anticonvulsants or anti-seizure medications
  • calcium channel blockers, which are used to lower blood pressure
  • diuretics or “water pills”
  • iron supplements
  • narcotic pain medications, such as tramadol (ConZip, Qdolo, Ultram) and oxycodone (Dazidox, Oxydose, Roxicodone)

If you think your constipation may be a result of a medication or supplement, talk with a doctor. Do not stop taking a medication or product a doctor has prescribed without consulting them first.

6. Laxative overuse

Using laxatives regularly for a long time can make your bowels rely on the medications to pass stool.

This is because long-term laxative use can weaken the muscles and nerve response in the gastrointestinal tract, making it harder to pass a bowel movement. As a result, your constipation may worsen, or you may become dependent on laxatives.

7. Pregnancy and postpartum

Constipation is a common symptom from early pregnancy to the postpartum period.

With constipation in pregnancy and the postpartum period, increased levels of the relaxin hormone slow down intestinal muscle movements. Supplements and vitamins that contain ferrous sulfate, a type of iron, may also worsen constipation.

8. Older age

Aging can make your bowel habits change, and getting older may increase the chances of constipation.

  • low levels Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of physical activity
  • having conditions that affect the muscles, nerves, or hormones, such as stroke and diabetes
  • taking medications linked to constipation, such as medications for Parkinson’s disease
  • experiencing changes in your daily habits and diet due to medical procedures and conditions

Other factors that contribute to constipation are also common Trusted Source National Institute on Aging Governmental authority Go to source among older adults, such as:

9. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a common, long-term gastrointestinal condition. It causes a number of symptoms, including stomach pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

Some people with IBS experience constipation more than diarrhea, which is known as IBS with constipation (IBS-C).

Experts are still investigating the causes of IBS, but some people may have triggers that worsen their symptoms. Examples of triggers include certain foods, stress, and hormonal changes.

Read more about IBS-C and dietary advice for IBS-C.

10. Other medical conditions

Some health conditions may cause or worsen constipation, such as:

  • other digestive or gastrointestinal conditions, such as celiac disease
  • inflammatory conditions, such as diverticular disease or proctitis
  • intestinal blockages
  • tumors
  • structural problems in the digestive tract, which you may have been born with
  • conditions affecting your:
    • metabolism, such as diabetes
    • hormones, such as hypothyroidism
    • brain and spine, such as Parkinson’s disease
    • brain or spinal injury

Read about treatment options for constipation.

Summary

Many factors and conditions can cause or worsen constipation, such as:

  • lack of fiber in your diet
  • dehydration
  • lack of physical activity
  • certain medications and supplements
  • changes in routine or bathroom habits
  • pregnancy
  • laxative overuse
  • IBS
  • other health conditions, such as diabetes or Parkinson’s disease

Talk with a doctor if you have any questions about constipation or its treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2024 Jun 5
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