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Constipation Causes

Common constipation causes include stress, lack of fiber and medication complications.

A diet lacking in fiber can lead to constipation. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
A diet lacking in fiber can lead to constipation.

Constipation Causes

Common constipation causes include stress, lack of fiber and medication complications. For those who suffer from it, occasional constipation causes discomfort and difficulty with bowel movements. Constipation is consider having fewer than three bowel movements a week and can be accompanied by straining, pain, abdominal cramps and the feeling of an incomplete bowel movement. Chronic constipation lasts longer than 12 weeks and directly affects the quality of life.

Diet as a Cause of Constipation

According to GIHealth.com, most Americans typically eat between 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day, yet the recommendations are at least double that at 30 grams of fiber a day. Hurried and busy lifestyles rely more on processed, canned and fast foods than ever before. The lack of fiber in daily meals and snacks contributes to constipation.

Fiber is a product of plants and is present in fruits and vegetables. Fiber, also known as roughage, produces bulk in the intestinal tract. This bulk helps to move the fecal material from the intestines out of the body.

Foods that are high in fiber include beans, whole grains, bran, leafy green vegetables, root vegetables and fruits. If a diet is lacking in fiber, daily fiber supplements are available. Fiber supplements are made as a water-soluble powder or as tablets or capsules.

According to the National Institutes of Health, fiber should be added gradually to the diet. Consuming too much fiber too fast can cause cramps or abdominal pain (gas or bloating). An increase of fiber in the diet requires an increase in the amount of water needed every day. If fiber is increase without increasing the intake of fluids, the fiber itself can cause constipation. Because there is excess bulk in the bowels, there needs to be excess water as well, to move it through the system.

Lifestyle as a Cause of Constipation

Lives change, as do lifestyles. From illness to pregnancy to aging, lifestyle can contribute to or cause constipation. Temporary illnesses can cause constipation because of the lack of movement and decreased fluid intake or dehydration. Pregnancy can cause constipation due to the pressure the uterus puts on the intestines and lower bowel. Other lifestyle changes that can cause constipation include decreased activity, traveling and increased stress.

People who dont set aside time every day for bowel movements experience constipation because the bowels arent used to moving at a particular time. Good bowel habits are essential for regular bowel habits. Setting a regular pattern helps stimulate activity in the colon. Those same people are often too busy to exercise and they also ignore the urge to move their bowels. Ignoring the urge to move the bowels may cause the sensation to stop altogether, according to the Harvard Medical School.

Seniors experience more constipation than younger people. This may be the result of diminished intake of fluids and fiber, diminished physical activity and an increased incidence of medical conditions that cause constipation.

Medications as a Cause of Constipation

Medications alone can cause constipation and many list constipation as a potential side effect. These medications are not just prescription medications; they also include some over-the-counter varieties. Calcium and iron supplements can cause constipation. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antihistamines and antacids are over-the-counter medications that can also cause constipation in some people.

The overuse of laxatives themselves can cause constipation. According to the Mayo Clinic, when laxatives are taken too often, the body begins to rely on the stimulation of the drug and becomes dependent on laxatives.

According to the Journal of Family Practice, drugs that are prescribed for heart, blood pressure, seizure, convulsion or depression disorders can also cause constipation.

Prescription pain medication, narcotics and sedatives cause constipation by slowing body responses. Not only are pain responses slowed, stimulation of the intestinal tract is also slowed.

Medical Disorders Causing Constipation

Certain medical conditions either cause constipation or have constipation as a direct result of the disorder. The most obvious of these are intestinal blockages, tumors or cancer of the colon. Diverticulosis, irritable bowel syndrome, hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and kidney disease are diseases that can cause constipation.

Neurological problems that can cause constipation include spinal cord injuries, pelvic floor dysfunction, Parkinsons and strokes. With these problems, nerve endings to the intestines, colon or rectum are compromised and the ability to feel the urge or respond in time is absent or limited. 

Understanding the causes of constipation can help treat it. Only the person suffering from constipation can determine if it can be remedied by simple lifestyle changes or if a consult with the doctor is necessary.

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