Menopause can cause many changes in a woman’s metabolic health. You may find yourself wondering, “can menopause cause constipation?” Menopause and constipation are connected but do not fear because there are ways to alleviate symptoms and get your hormones and constipation in check. At University Park OBGYN, our experts are here to help you navigate perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause.
Can Menopause Cause Constipation, and Is It Common?
It is incredibly common to develop constipation and slow intestinal movement in your perimenopausal or post-menopausal period because the shift in hormones and constipation are indeed connected. Our digestive health is vital to our overall health, so it makes sense that digestive issues that go hand in hand with menopause and constipation can be disruptive to our everyday life. Estrogen levels affect how our GI system runs because estrogen receptors are actually in the small intestines and our stomach. Due to this, the receptors can stop muscles from contracting in places like your colon, hence why hormones and constipation are intrinsically connected.
Can Physiological Changes Contribute to Constipation and Menopause?
During menopause, our pelvic floor muscles weaken, which can add to the increasing difficulty in making bowel movements during this time. Many women experience joint and back pain as well. This pain can cause women to limit or reduce physical activity, and with this lack of mobility comes gastrointestinal disturbances. Even the way we breathe can affect our digestion. It is important to breathe deeply into the belly from the diaphragm instead of the chest to stimulate and massage the digestive system.
What Other GI Symptoms Can Occur During Menopause?
Aside from constipation and menopause, you may experience other gastrointestinal disturbances as early as perimenopause. Such disturbances include IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, vomiting, and lactose intolerance. The strong, changing shifts in hormones seem to be behind these unwanted symptoms, and we are here to help you understand why these symptoms occur.
A drop in estrogen levels can create a chain of unwanted events because the body produces more cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. Increases in cortisol can contribute to elevations in blood sugar and blood pressure. Additionally, cortisol throws off levels of acid in your stomach, which causes bloating and relaxes the muscles of the colon, causing diarrhea. Diarrhea, similar to constipation, is a very common side effect of perimenopause and menopause.
Bloating and fullness in the abdomen are very uncomfortable and are typically caused by water or air retention. Our estrogen and progesterone hormones can affect our body’s physiology by fluctuating the salt and fluids in our bodies. Elevated estrogen is responsible for water retention, and a drop in progesterone can increase urination. Bloating in the abdomen can additionally be caused by changes in hormones disrupting the production of bile. This causes stool to harden and gather over time because of lack of lubrication, causing discomfort and pain. Lifestyle changes can help alleviate bloating, but GI disturbances and unbalanced hormones are the main culprits of abdominal bloating.
Contributing Factors to Constipation and Menopause Symptoms
Hormones are not the only thing to blame for unwanted symptoms during menopause. Lifestyle choices significantly affect your health during this sensitive time as well.
Here are some additional causes:
- Heavy alcohol use
- Lack of exercise and physical activity
- Unhealthy diet
- Lack of fiber in the diet
- Taking certain medications
With the proper care and management of your health with the advice of your physician, you can get your daily life back on track during menopause.
How Can I Alleviate Symptoms?
Are you tired of asking yourself, “can menopause cause constipation” or “why do my hormones and constipation seem out of control?” Know that with the right lifestyle changes, many of these imbalances can once again become balanced out!
It is crucial to hydrate regularly throughout the day, whether or not you are going through menopause! Hydration is essential for good health and directly aids digestion. Water and other liquids help break down food so you can get the most out of the nutrients in your digestive tract. Additionally, water helps to soften your stool, which prevents constipation.
To avoid unwanted symptoms of constipation and menopause, it is vital to increase your physical activity, especially building muscles in your core. Try to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, whether walking, bicycling, swimming, or trying out a gym or yoga class. Remember, it is always good to consult your physician when beginning a new exercise routine to ensure it is right for you and your health needs.
Try to incorporate up to 50 grams of fiber into your diet each day to aid in digestion and avoid constipation. Fiber can be found in whole grains such as oatmeal or brown rice, many fruits, and vegetables, legumes such as beans, seeds, and nuts. Remember that caffeine and alcoholic beverages are dehydrating and can add to your constipation symptoms. Avoid processed and packaged foods and foods high in sugar to maintain a healthy, nutritious diet.
Look over your medication list with your physician and see if any medications may be causing or adding to your constipation and menopause symptoms. A range of prescription medications to simple supplements such as iron or calcium can slow down our digestive system. If a medication that causes constipation cannot be stopped or swapped out, combat the side effects of the many lifestyle changes listed above, such as diet, hydration, and mobility changes.
If lifestyle changes cannot fully level out your hormones and constipation woes, you may use an over-the-counter stool softener or laxative. Suppose OTC medication is still not providing the relief you need. In that case, it is best to consult your primary care physician or a gastroenterologist to see if prescription medication is necessary to alleviate discomfort and symptoms.
If menopause and constipation symptoms seem out of your control, it may be worth speaking with your doctor about pelvic floor physical therapy. Physical therapy of the pelvic floor targets muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue in the pelvis and can assist with supporting the pelvic organs to help with bladder and bowel control. A more coordinated and aligned pelvis will assist with passing stool and reduce pain and inflammation occurring in the pelvic area.
It is entirely normal to feel fear or embarrassment about your changing body and uncomfortable symptoms during this sensitive time. Because of this, we may be ignoring signs that we need to go, especially in public settings and the work environment. Over time, holding your bowel movements disturbs your body’s natural receptors, and you can begin to lose control, leading to more pain. Try to remain calm and listen to your body’s needs.
Can menopause cause constipation? Yes, probably. Constipation during menopause is the product of hormones constantly changing, and other gastrointestinal disturbances are common during this transitional time in a woman’s life. By following the tips above and comprehensively addressing issues related to menopause and constipation with your care provider, you can get ahead of your symptoms and live a life of comfort and ease even through menopause. At University Park OBGYN, we are here to answer any further questions you may have about navigating menopause. Take control of your health, call your gynecologist, and request an appointment today!