Can Constipation Cause Bloating?
You’ve probably experienced constipation at some point in your life. You might be one of the lucky people who can count on one hand the number of times they’ve been constipated. Or maybe you’re somebody who deals with this digestive issue more often than you’d like to admit.
Constipation refers to a digestive problem that around 20% of the population experiences regularly (however, the majority of people across the world will experience it at some point, even if it's a very rare occurrence).
How do you know if you’re constipated? Well, the accepted diagnosis criteria for constipation are bowel movements less than three times a week, which are accompanied by bloating, gas, and abdominal cramps.
When you're constipated, you might notice that when you do pass a stool, it's hard, lumpy, and difficult to get out. You might experience some pain when going to the toilet because of the hardness of the stool.
Constipation is a digestive issue that almost one in every five people experience on a regular basis. It comes along with feelings of fullness and tightness in the abdomen, and can often also be associated with cramping, bloating, and pain.
In this article, we’re going to answer a common question - does constipation cause bloating? We will also take a look at the main causes of constipation and how you can manage or avoid it with some simple at-home remedies and lifestyle changes.
Does Constipation Cause Bloating?
There are many causes of bloating, some more common than others. Constipation is one of the leading causes of bloating. When food gets stuck in the lower digestive tract, it can cause a blockage that makes it very difficult to go to the toilet. As a result, you can end up with a distended abdomen that feels hard, uncomfortable, and even painful.
Plus, when food remains in your gut for longer than normal, the bacteria in your gut can begin to ferment it. Fermentation is a process that produces gas. When there’s more gas in your digestive tract, you’re more likely to feel bloated.
So, yes, to put it simply, constipation absolutely can cause bloating!
Main Causes of Constipation
Constipation causes bloating. We’ve established that above. But what causes constipation in the first place?
Digestion is complicated, and so is constipation. There are so many different things that can make you constipated and negatively impact your bowel regularity. Here are some of the main short-term and long-term causes of constipation.
1. Dietary changes
A completely benign and common cause for bloating is changes in diet. Your body gets used to the foods you eat regularly, and when you change your meals and snacks, it can start to freak out, for want of a better phrase.
Adding a couple of extra ingredients to your meals or swapping from one fruit to another won’t impact your digestion or constipation risk that much. However, significant dietary changes can cause you to get blocked up and bloated.
More specifically, adjusting your diet so that it contains less fibre can lead to constipation and bloating. Fibre is vital for healthy digestion, and a lack of fibre can slow down the movement of food through your gut.
Similarly, consuming more sugary and processed foods than usual can disrupt fluid balance in your gut, causing a harder stool that is more difficult to pass.
2. Changes in hormones
Hormones impact digestion more than you probably realise. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline can divert blood away from the digestive tract to muscle tissue, causing food to remain stagnant in your intestines and leading to constipation and bloating.
Reproductive hormones, such as oestrogen and progesterone, also influence your digestive system. Increases in these hormones during certain times of your menstrual cycle slow down digestion and increase the chances of constipation.
Both oestrogen and progesterone increase significantly in mid to late pregnancy, which is one of the many reasons why pregnant women have reduced bowel regularity, rely on various bloating remedies, and get a range of digestive issues right up until they give birth.
3. Travelling (for a number of reasons)
Long-term travel can cause constipation and bloating for lots of different reasons. Firstly, when you’re travelling, you usually end up eating different foods to your usual diet, and you probably aren't eating as regularly as you normally would when at home.
Combining the changes in your diet and meal frequency, it’s not hard to see why your digestion goes out of whack when you’re travelling long distances. You might not be near to a toilet and even if you are, you may not be comfortable emptying your bowels in a public lavatory (we don’t blame you!).
If you’re travelling for a holiday, you might end up indulging in higher-fat, higher-salt, and higher-sugar foods. There’s nothing wrong with this, and you deserve to treat yourself to your favourite treats when you’re away on holiday. However, don’t be surprised if your bowel habits temporarily change and you experience some constipation.
Travelling also requires you to be sedentary for an extended period of time. Whether you’re on a plane or train or you’re driving in the car, you won’t be moving your body. A lack of physical movement can reduce blood flow to the digestive tract, slowing down digestion and increasing the risk of constipation and bloating.
4. Underlying Medical Conditions
Lots of different medical conditions can negatively impact digestion and increase the severity and frequency of constipation. Common chronic health issues that increase digestive symptoms include:
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Thyroid hormone conditions, including Hashimoto’s disease or Graves’ disease
- Cancers of the digestive tract
- Spinal cord injuries
Tips to Reduce Constipation
Now we’ve covered the most common causes of constipation, let’s take a look at some great ways to relieve constipation naturally.
1. Modify your diet
The foods you eat can contribute to your digestive health (or lack of). In particular, a lack of fibre can increase the risk of severity of constipation, as fibre is essential for healthy digestion. It’s a type of prebiotic carbohydrate that fuels the beneficial probiotic bacteria in your gut to aid food breakdown and absorption.
Increasing your fibre intake will improve digestive health and keep constipation and blowing at bay. High-fibre foods include whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Focus on consuming plenty of potassium and avoiding overconsumption of salt and sugar, too. Increased potassium intake can improve fluid balance in the gut to keep your stool soft. Too much salt and sugar can draw water out of the colon, having the opposite effect and hardening the stool.
2. Take supplements
While diet and lifestyle play a significant role in digestive health, supplements can be just as beneficial. You can use supplements to increase your nutrient intake and support your digestive system in breaking down and absorbing the food you eat.
We recommend talking to a Registered Dietitian or Licensed Nutritionist before you start adding a bunch of vitamin and mineral supplements into your daily routine. Despite popular belief, you can overdo it with micronutrients!
Common nutrient deficiencies that can negatively impact digestion include B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin K2, calcium, iron, and magnesium. If you suspect that you have a nutrient deficiency that’s causing constipation and bloating, contact a healthcare professional who can confirm potential nutrient deficiencies and recommend appropriate supplementation.
Additional supplements to support your digestion and relieve constipation include probiotics and digestive enzymes.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that reside naturally in your gut and help to break down foods and produce important compounds like vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids. Their role in digestion can reduce the risk of constipation and bloating.
Digestive enzymes, again, are found naturally in the body, but you can take a supplement to aid your natural digestive processes. Supplementation may even be essential if you have a medical condition that reduces your natural production of digestive enzymes.
With more digestive enzymes in your digestive tract, food can move quickly through your intestines without getting blocked.
At Wild Dose, we offer a combined probiotic and digestive enzyme supplement called A Dose For Bloating. Combining two billion probiotic bacteria with seven digestive enzymes and seven plant extracts, our supplement can improve food breakdown and absorption in your gut to minimise digestive symptoms.
3. Consume foods that have a natural laxative effect
Some foods have natural laxative effects, and eating more of these foods in your meals and snacks can help relieve constipation and poor digestion.
Foods that have natural laxative effects include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Dried fruit, such as apricots and prunes
You can also take herbal laxatives, which are available as capsules, pessaries, or powders that you can stir into hot drinks. It might be best to speak to your doctor about herbal laxatives or laxative medications if you plan on taking them regularly for your constipation.
4. Exercise more
Physical activity can help to get things moving down below. Adding more exercise to your daily routine is an amazing lifestyle change to tackle bloating and constipation.
You can add a daily walk into your routine, join a local gym, play sports, or start dance lessons. Whatever form of exercise you enjoy, don’t be afraid to embrace it and have fun with it! You’ll find that, after just a few weeks of regular exercise (or maybe even less time than this), your constipation significantly improves.
Exercise doesn’t just have its beneficial effects on the digestive system through the physical movement it causes in your gut. It also provides stress relief and emotional health benefits that enable you to become more relaxed, which can, in turn, improve your digestive health.
5. Try magnesium citrate
Magnesium citrate is a type of magnesium that is well-known for its digestive benefits. This compound acts as an osmotic laxative to reduce constipation and works by bringing more water into the intestines from the bloodstream to soften the stool.
Magnesium citrate is often used by medical professionals to clear the colon before gastroenterological surgery, such as a colonoscopy.
6. Drink more caffeine
For many people, caffeine has laxative effects and can cause the urge to run to the bathroom. These effects are caused by caffeine's ability to make the muscles in the lower digestive tract to contract.
Adding a cup of caffeinated coffee to your breakfast or mid-morning snack can be enough in and of itself to relieve constipation. Caffeinated coffee has been shown to be 23% more effective at causing a bowel movement than decaffeinated alternatives.
Coffee also contains a small amount of soluble fibre, which feeds the probiotic bacteria in your gut and supports better digestion.
Despite being beneficial for most people, caffeinated beverages can be a problem for those with digestive disorders. Be careful when increasing your caffeine intake if you have a condition like IBS or IBD, or if you're particularly sensitive to caffeine.
You’ll also have to make sure you hydrate yourself properly if you’re consuming more caffeine than you’re used to because it has diuretic effects, meaning it causes you to pee more.
Constipation is a pain (metaphorically or physically), but thankfully, there are things you can do to tackle this common digestive issue.
Of course, the exact course of treatment that works for you will depend on the root cause (or causes) of your constipation and how your body reacts to certain treatments or lifestyle changes. However, with some trial and error, you will have no trouble figuring out which changes and modifications are most effective at relieving your constipation.