Constipation

  • Medical Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideDigestive Disorders: Constipation Myths and Facts

Digestive Disorders: Constipation Myths and Facts

Other causes of constipation

Habit

Bowel movements are under voluntary control. This means that the normal urge people feel when they need to have a bowel movement can be suppressed. Although occasionally it is appropriate to suppress an urge to defecate (for example, when a bathroom is not available), doing this too frequently can lead to a disappearance of urges and result in constipation.

Diet

Fiber is important in maintaining a soft, bulky stool. Diets that are low in fiber can, therefore, cause constipation. The best natural sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.


Laxatives

One suspected cause of severe constipation is the over-use of stimulant laxatives (senna [Senokot], castor oil, and many herbs). An association has been shown between the chronic use of stimulant laxatives and damage to the nerves and muscles of the colon, possibly resulting in constipation. It is not clear, however, whether the laxatives have caused the damage or whether the damage existed prior to the use of laxatives. Nevertheless, because of the possibility that stimulant laxatives can damage the colon, most experts recommend that stimulant laxatives be used as a last resort after non-stimulant treatments have failed.

Hormonal disorders

Hormones can affect bowel movements. For example:

  • Too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) and too much parathyroid hormone (by raising the calcium levels in the blood) can cause constipation.
  • At the time of a woman's menstrual periods, estrogen and progesterone levels are high and may cause constipation. However, this is rarely a prolonged problem.
  • High levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy also can cause constipation. Continue Reading
Reviewed on 7/16/2015
References
REFERENCE:

Fauci, Anthony S., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2011.

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