Constipation and Aging (cont.)

What Causes Constipation?

Doctors do not always know what causes constipation. It may be a poor diet, not getting enough exercise, or using laxatives too often.

Diet. People may become constipated if they do not eat enough high-fiber foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Some research shows that high-fiber diets can help prevent constipation. Eating a lot of high-fat meats, dairy products and eggs, or rich desserts and sugary sweets also may cause constipation.

People who live alone sometimes lose interest in cooking and eating. As a result, they start using a lot of prepared foods. These foods tend to be low in fiber and may lead to constipation. In addition, if you have bad teeth, you may tend to choose soft, processed foods that contain small amounts of fiber.

People sometimes do not drink enough water and other fluids. This often is true when they are not eating regular meals. But water and other liquids may help some people stay regular.

Using too many laxatives and enemas. Many people think of laxatives as a cure for constipation. But if you use laxatives too often, your body may forget how to work on its own. Heavy use of laxatives is not needed and can cause diarrhea. For the same reason, if you use enemas too often, your body may begin to depend on them. Too many enemas may stop you from having normal bowel movements.

Lack of exercise. Inactivity or long periods in bed, such as after an accident or illness, may cause constipation. Doctors sometimes suggest medicine for people who stay in bed and suffer from chronic constipation. But being more active, when possible, is best.

Holding back bowel movements. People also can become constipated if they ignore their urge to have a bowel movement. Some people prefer to have bowel movements only at home. But holding in a bowel movement can cause constipation if the delay is too long.

Medical conditions. Some problems, like stroke, diabetes, or a blockage in the intestines, can cause constipation. A condition called irritable bowel syndrome can also cause constipation. These disorders may affect the muscles or nerves used for normal bowel movements. A doctor can do tests to see if a medical problem is the cause. If so, the problem often can be treated.

Medications. Some medicines can lead to constipation. These include some drugs used to treat depression, antacids containing aluminum or calcium, some allergy medicines (anti-histamines), some high blood pressure drugs, including diuretics, and some drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease.

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