Causes of Constipation and How to Find Relief from It

The process by which the body eliminates solid waste may be a very unappealing aspect of the human condition, but it’s one that’s very necessary. Being ‘regular’ as the expression goes means you don’t ever have difficulty having bowel movements, while being irregular can mean that you are constipated. What is constipation? It’s being unable to have a bowel movement, or defecate as is the term for it. It’s not difficult to understand that constipation can be a source of great discomfort, and the way it can make you flatulent can be embarrassing too.

It will be also be fairly easy to think of what constipation symptoms will be once you know what it is. If you haven’t been able to use a toilet for a few days then you’ll want to know how to get constipation relief. Let’s look at what causes constipation and provide a little more information about constipation symptoms here.

What Causes Constipation?

Constipation is a digestive health ailment where defecation is made difficult because the individual’s stools are not soft enough to slide along the colon, and out through the rectum to leave the body. This usually stems from the colon absorbing too much of the water contained in food that enters it after leaving the lower intestine. This occurs because certain conditions make the food move more slowly through the entire digestive tract, and feces become dry and hard.

As the body’s peristalsis (natural contraction of intestinal walls) movement pushes this waste towards the rectum you then begin to experience constipation symptoms.

The most common causes of constipation are:

Insufficient Fiber Intake with Diet – The absorptive exterior of fiber is left intact longer through the digestive process because fiber takes longer for your body to break down. For this reason it retains the water more effectively and more of it remains in your waste matter when a lot of it is made up of fiber.

Physical Inactivity – Not being physically active enough can be a cause of constipation. This can be very true for older people who spend a lot of the day sitting, either at work or at home. Even just walking regularly can help improve regularity if you’re constipated for this reason. In addition, being bedridden for any reason can make you constipated too.

Age – The slower body metabolism that comes with older age means that intestinal activity is slowed as well, plus the muscles of the digestive tract do not work with the same efficiency.

Medication Use – Prescription opioid painkiller drugs like codeine (Tylenol), oxycodone (Percocet), and hydromorphone (Dilaudid) are the types of drugs most likely to cause constipation. Antidepressants can too along with anticonvulsant medications like phenytoin (Dilantin) and carbamazepine (Tegretol). Calcium channel blocking meds like diltiazem (Cardizem) and nifedipine (Procardia) have the same constipation causing effect along with common antacid meds that contain either Amphojel or Basajel. Diuretics lie chlorothiazide (Diuril) can be a cause of constipation symptoms.

Milk Allergy – Having an undiagnosed (casein) allergy to milk and dairy products or being lactose intolerant and still consuming milk can cause constipation.

IBS – Irritable bowel syndrome sufferers become constipated much more frequently than others due to the nature of the condition.

Pregnancy – Women are more prone to becoming constipated when they are pregnant, and this is because of hormonal changes. Later on in the term the uterus may be compressing the intestine and this slows the digestive movement.

Abusing Laxatives – Laxatives are designed for intermittent use only and taking them too frequently to assist yourself in having a bowel movement can worsen the problem and your constipation symptoms more frequently.

Excessive Delay of Bowel Movement – Putting off using the toilet for a reasonable period of time is often necessary and not a problem for staying regular, but if you delay it for too long the stool becomes drier and harder.

Insufficient Hydration – This one is pretty self-explanatory with the understanding that water content is water keeps stools softer.

Colon or Rectal Issues – This is uncommon, but tumors, scar tissue, divertculitis, and colorectal stricture can increase constipation frequency, as people with Hirschsprung disease as extremely susceptible to constipation.

Diseases and Conditions:

  • Neurological disorders like Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, and chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction
  • Endocrine and metabolic conditions:
    • Uremia, Diabetes, Hypercalcemia, Poor Glycemic Control, Hypothyroidism
  • Systemic Diseases:
    • Lupus, Scleroderma, Amyloidosis most commonly among others

Constipation Relief

As mentioned above, laxatives should only be used if you can’t find constipation relief more naturally. The best and most effective constipation relief approach is to eat a large amount of insoluble fiber in a food source. Bran is the hard outer layers of cereal grain and it is about the best type of fiber source you can have for constipation relief. Eating a pair of bran muffins along with plenty of water or tea should lead to overcoming your constipation within a few hours.

Bulk laxatives are insoluble fiber laxatives and they work the same way the bran muffins would. You mix them into water or juice and drink the mix to deliver colon-clearing fiber that eliminates constipation. Common products include Metamucil, Citrucel, and FiberCon.

From a more long-term approach it is helpful to be more physically active (even walking casually more often can be enough) and eating more fruits and vegetables and whole grain foods to get ideal fiber intake. Another good tip is to not ‘speed up’ bowel movements, and allow yourself as much time as needed to use the toilet at your body’s pace.

If laxatives must be used for relief of constipation symptoms then there are a number of choices based on the nature of your constipation. Speak to your physician or pharmacist for more information on these products:

  • Stimulants like Correctol, Senokot, and Dulcolax
  • Saline laxatives like milk of magnesia
  • Mineral oil lubricants
  • Stool softeners like Colace and Surfak
  • Osmotic fluidizers like Sorbitoal, Cephulac, and Miralax
  • In severe constipation cases doctors will sometimes prescribe a chloride-channel activator drug like Amitiza or a 5-HT-4 agonist medication like Prucalopride to promote more fluid secretion in the intestine