What Causes Constipation?

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man-in-chair-with-constipationConstipation is experienced by nearly everyone at some point in their lives, most often the result of a poor diet or dehydration. But for many, constipation, infrequent bowel movements that are hard and difficult to pass, is an ongoing, chronic condition. Medical professionals define it as experiencing fewer than three bowel movements per week and may be caused by a variety of factors.

Causes of Constipation:

  1. Diet – The most common cause is poor diet. A diet heavy in meats and processed foods with little dietary fiber is a recipe for this condition. Too little water leading to dehydration also contributes to it.
  2. Dehydration directly affects the consistency of stool, making it harder to pass and worsening constipation. Both alcohol and caffeine produce a diuretic effect that increases dehydration leading to constipation.
  3. Medication – Both prescription and over the counter medications can contribute to this, especially opioid painkillers. Codeine and morphine slow the digestive process allowing waste to accumulate in the lower intestines. Blood pressure medicines, diuretics, antacids, iron supplements and antidepressant affect fluid, electrolytes and minerals like calcium that can cause constipation. Laxative abuse or addiction can cause “rebound” constipation as your colon becomes dependant on the laxatives for a bowel movement. Overuse or misuse of antidiarrheal medications will also contribute to chronic constipation.
  4. Stress Stress and anxiety cause shifts in hormones that slow digestion. Depression will have a similar effect added to a decrease in exercise and activity that further worsens your constipation.
  5.  Illness or Disease – It is a side effect of several illnesses or diseases – or disease interferes with the organs needed for the digestive system to work properly. Example of illnesses and diseases that can cause constipation include systemic disorders including lupus, scleroderma and amyloidosis. Neurological disorders including spinal cord injuries, systemic stroke, Parkinson’s Disease and MS or multiple sclerosis. 
  6. Metabolic and endocrine conditions include uremia, diabetes, hypothyroidism and hypercalcemia. Diverticulosis, Hirschsprung’s disease, tumors secondary to cancer, intestinal obstruction, or adhesions can also be contributing factors.
  7. Pregnancy – It often accompanies pregnancy as a result of hormonal changes followed by changing body shape causing a shift of the internal organs as the baby grows. This causes the uterus to compress the intestine, slowing down the passage of food and stool.
  8. Ignoring The Need To Use The Toilet – One of the most common causes of this is simply ignoring the signal or “need” to use the toilet. If you ignore the urge to have a bowel movement, that urge can gradually disappear until you no longer feel the need to go. The longer you delay a bowel movement, the drier and harder your stool will become.

Treatment of this condition could be as simple as increasing exercise, eating more fiber and drinking more water, but treatment varies by causes and symptoms.

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