You may be overlooking these causes of chronic constipation

You know what constipation is, and you know what it’s like. Constipation is uncomfortable at best, and can be dangerous as its worst. And while constipation is not itself a disease, it could be an indicator of an underlying medical condition. That’s why it’s crucial to pay attention to your body and take into account what is normal for you. Sometimes it’s easy to tell why and how you got constipated based on what you’ve been doing or eating. But sometimes the cause is a mystery. There are many potential causes of constipation, so we’ll take you through some you may be overlooking. If you experience symptoms associated with chronic constipation, it’s best to take note of all your symptoms and consult a doctor if necessary.

CAUSES OF CONSTIPATION – MENTAL HEALTH

Your mental and physical health link through a nerve connection between your brain and gut, referred to as the brain-gut axis. This communication is between the central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS). Your ENS is part of your autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ENS consists of two thin layers of over 100 million nerve cells. It spans the entire gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus to the rectum.  This brain-gut axis creates a correlation between mental health disorders and the functioning of your gastrointestinal tract. Experts are unsure if certain mental health conditions cause chronic constipation or if constipation can cause certain mental health conditions. However, they do influence each other via the brain-gut axis.

Two mental health conditions directly linked to chronic constipation are generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression. With GAD, your body is constantly under a lot of physical and mental stress. Since your body is entering a fight or flight mode, your sympathetic nervous system, which is closely associated with your ENS, goes into overdrive and prevents your digestive process from working. This creates a chain reaction that can cause chronic constipation. Depression can lead to constipation for a myriad of reasons. When going through a depressive episode, you may find yourself eating more fatty, processed foods or not eating enough food. You could also find that you are less physically active. All of that can affect your digestion.

CAUSES OF CONSTIPATION – MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Experiencing chronic constipation can be a symptom of another underlying medical condition. Some of these conditions are not as serious, while others can be life-threatening. Either way, it’s best to keep track of your symptoms and go to a doctor when necessary. One such condition could be hypothyroidism, i.e., an underactive thyroid. Your thyroid controls your metabolism, which affects the speed of your digestion. If your thyroid is underactive, it can cause chronic constipation. For some, an underactive thyroid is an underlying symptom of another health condition. These conditions include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, congenital diseases, iodine deficiency, or pituitary disorders.

Diabetes is another medical condition that can cause chronic constipation. In diabetics, the body has difficulty breaking down sugar in the blood. Excess sugar in the blood damages nerves, including the nerves of the gastrointestinal tract. The nerve damage can cause constipation. Chronic constipation is also a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). More serious conditions can cause chronic constipation. One of these is multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks a healthy portion of the body, typically the brain or spinal cord. Another example is Parkinson’s disease, a condition that damages parts of the brain over the years. Constipation is common in both conditions. However, it is not symptom-specific and could be the result of medication instead.

CAUSES OF CONSTIPATION – COMMON MEDICATIONS

Medication that you’re on may be the cause of your chronic constipation. Come medications that cause chronic constipation are iron and calcium supplements, antacids, diuretics, antihistamines and blood pressure medications such as calcium channel blockers. While some antidepressants help patients with chronic constipation, others antidepressants can cause constipation. Examples include the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor fluoxetine (Prozac) or tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil). If you are prescribed OxyContin or Vicodin for pain, it could also be the cause of your chronic constipation. Both of these medications cause nerves in your gut to sleep, resulting in food backing up. Other medications that cause chronic constipation are antipsychotics, anticonvulsants and medications to treat Parkinson’s disease.

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