What Causes Constipation? 5 Surprising Reasons You Can’t Go
At any given time, about two percent of the population is suffering from constipation. In fact, constipation is so common that most people will experience it at least once in their lifetime, with women and the elderly especially prone to developing blockage.
According to WebMD, you are considered constipated when you have to strain for a bowel movement more than 25 percent of the time, have hard stools more than 25 percent of the time, or two or fewer bowel movements in a day.
If you’ve reached this point, you’re probably wondering where you went wrong.
Because constipation is considered a common disorder of the digestive tract, there are a wide variety of causes that could be leading to your blockage. However, there are a few dietary and lifestyle habits that can make you more susceptible to constipation.
Here’s a look at some of the most common reasons people experience constipation, and what to do about it.
1. Eating The Wrong Foods
Dietary problems are the leading cause of constipation in both men and women. People frequently eat foods like red meat that are difficult to digest as they have all of the protein stripped away once they’re cooked. In fact, it can take the body more than 90 hours to digest even some of the meat you’ve eaten, so you can see how blockage would occur.
Sweet foods like cookies, cakes, or pies also increase constipation because of their low fiber content and high inclusion of sugar. Chocolate is especially notorious for causing blockage—in one 2005 study, people who experienced chronic constipation and irritable bowel syndrome were more likely to report that chocolate caused their constipation.
Too much dairy is another culprit in constipation, and most physicians recommend you cut your daily intake of cheese, eggs, and meat while raising your fiber intake by about 20 to 35 grams per day.
2. Depression and Antidepressants
In a no-win scenario, both depression and the use of antidepressants have been found to stimulate constipation.
Depression causes a slowdown of all the body’s normal processes, including those relating to the bowel. And people with IBS are generally more likely to have depression as well.
Then, when they treat it with antidepressants like Prozac that contain serotonin reuptake inhibitor, constipation is triggered again. This is especially true of older tricyclic antidepressants, such as Elavil.
Though the reasons behind this are unclear, the evidence seems to speak for itself. If you’re taking an antidepressant, you may think about getting a stool softener.
3. Taking Too Many Painkillers
Similarly, painkillers—and especially narcotics—had a track record of causing constipation. According to Thomas Park with the University of Rochester Medical Center Park in New York, painkillers interfere with processes in the intestinal tract because of the way they operate.
“A lot of receptors for the narcotic class of drugs are in the digestive tract, so it tends to bring everything to a halt,” Park said. “In general, it’s a good idea for everyone who’s placed on one of these drugs to also place them on a gentle laxative like a stool softener.”
Some studies suggest that this effect is especially pronounced with the use of aspirin and ibuprofen.
Any mother knows that pregnancy is a common time to experience blockage. In fact, it’s estimated that as many as half of pregnant women get constipated at some point during the nine months.
This is because the hormone progesterone, which is activated during pregnancy, relaxes smooth muscles in the digestive tract, causing food to pass through more slowly. And as the uterus begins to place pressure on your rectum, the problem becomes worse.
If you’re pregnant, make sure to drink plenty of water and eat a lot of foods high in fiber. Regular exercise like walking and swimming will also help to stimulate the bowels.
5. Resisting the Urge to Have a Bowel Movement
You should never resist the urge to have a bowel movement, even if it is inconvenient or awkward. This can cause the stool to retreat back into your body and build up, making it difficult to go again when you need to.
It can also cause dehydration.
According to Dr. Ben Kim, who specializes in colonic issues, “If you regularly suppress the urge to have a bowel movement, waste materials spend more time than is optimal in your colon, causing excessive dehydration of these materials and formation of hard stools.”
What Do I Do Now That I Have Constipation?
If you’re already struggling with constipation, and you’ve tried to eliminate risk factors from your lifestyle, it’s time to treat it.
Depending on the severity of the case, you may want something as simple as a stool softener or as involved as a colonoscopy. You can also consider enemas or other colon cleansers to relieve you.