Why am I Constipated? Common Causes and Treatment Options

A man struggling to poop

Although many people face challenges when it comes to regular bowel movements, discussing and seeking treatment for issues like these can make you feel self-conscious.

However, leaving constipation untreated can have detrimental effects on your bowel health and overall quality of life.

That’s why it’s essential to understand the causes of constipation and how it can be treated to ensure you take proper care of your health.

This article covers all you need to know about constipation and ways to alleviate discomfort and minimize its impact on your daily life.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is a common digestive condition characterized by infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stools.

A person is usually considered constipated if they have fewer than three bowel movements per week.

Signs and symptoms of constipation

Constipation can affect individuals of all ages but usually becomes more common as you age. Signs and symptoms to look out for may include:

  • Infrequent bowel movements

  • Hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass

  • Straining or experiencing discomfort during a bowel movement

  • Abdominal pain, bloating, or cramps

  • Feeling a sensation of blockage

  • Needing help to empty the rectum completely

If you experience these symptoms, it might be a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor for a professional diagnosis.

Common Causes of Constipation

Dietary factors

Following a diet that is low in fiber — the substance responsible for softening stools and making them easier to pass — is one of the most common causes of constipation.

A low-fiber diet can contribute to harder stools that may be more difficult to clear, causing pain and discomfort during bowel movements.

Another dietary factor that can contribute to constipation is not drinking enough fluids throughout the day.

Water and other fluids are absorbed by dietary fiber and increase stool bulk, facilitating smoother passage through the colon.

Inadequate fluid intake can result in dry and hard stools that are difficult to pass — especially if you follow a high-fiber diet but don’t drink enough water.

Lastly, factors like excessive consumption of dairy products and processed foods — two products that are high in fat but low in fiber — can also cause constipation.

Physical inactivity

Regularly exercising and moving your body helps stimulate intestinal activity and bowel movements.

A sedentary lifestyle — characterized by little to no physical activity — can decrease this natural movement, leading to constipation.

Certain medications

Some medications can cause constipation as a side effect of using them. These drugs may include:

  • Opioid pain relievers: These drugs can slow down the movement of the digestive tract.

  • Antidepressants: Using certain antidepressants can affect bowel movements and cause constipation.

  • Antacids: Those containing aluminum or calcium can make bowel movements difficult.

  • Iron supplements: Iron can harden stools, making them painful to pass.

  • Calcium channel blockers: These are used to treat high blood pressure, but they can slow bowel movements and contribute to constipation.

Medical conditions

Some health conditions may contribute to or increase your risk of becoming constipated. These include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): A condition that affects the large intestine, causing abdominal pain, cramping, and changes in bowel habits.

  • Thyroid disorders: Hypothyroidism — or having an underactive thyroid — can slow down the digestive process.

  • Diabetes: Nerve damage associated with diabetes can impact bowel movements.

  • Neurological conditions: Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), and spinal injuries can impair the nerves that help control bowel movements.

  • Intestinal obstructions: Tumors or scar tissue can block the intestines, leading to constipation.

Physiological factors

Stress, anxiety, and depression can significantly impact digestive health, leading to changes in bowel movements.

These changes can include constipation, diarrhea, alterations in bowel movement frequency, or variations in the color and consistency of the stool.

Can Constipation Cause Health Issues?


Having constipation — especially if it’s left untreated — can contribute to various health complications, including:

  • Hemorrhoids: Frequent straining during bowel movements can cause swollen blood vessels in the rectum called hemorrhoids, leading to pain, bleeding, and discomfort.

  • Anal fissures: Hard or large stools can cause tears in the rectal lining, resulting in anal fissures. These can be extremely painful and may bleed during bowel movements.

  • Rectal prolapse: Straining can cause part of the rectum to stretch and protrude from the anus – a condition known as rectal prolapse. This can lead to pain, difficulty during bowel movements, and leakage of stool.

  • Fecal impaction: Prolonged constipation can result in fecal impaction, a condition where hardened stool cannot be expelled from the body. This is a serious condition that may require emergency medical attention.

  • Potential risk of colorectal cancer: While the direct link remains unclear, chronic constipation may increase the risk of colorectal cancer over time.

Impact on day-to-day activities

The physical discomfort associated with constipation can significantly affect your ability to participate in daily activities and maintain a normal lifestyle.

Other ways constipation can impact your daily life include:

  • Reduced physical activity: Pain and discomfort may lead to decreased physical activity, worsening constipation, and negatively affecting overall health.

  • Mental health issues: Chronic constipation can lead to feelings of discomfort, stress, and anxiety, impacting mental health and well-being. The constant concern over bowel movements can also lead to social withdrawal and decreased quality of life.

  • Dietary restrictions: People suffering from chronic constipation might start avoiding certain foods they believe worsen their symptoms, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies and further health issues.

  • Workplace impact: The general discomfort caused by constipation can impair concentration and productivity at work, affecting professional life and performance.

How is Constipation Treated?


OTC medications are typically the primary treatment for relieving constipation. Your doctor may recommend the following drugs:

  • Osmotics

  • Fiber supplements

  • Intestinal stimulants

  • Stool softeners

  • Suppositories

  • Enemas

  • Lubricant laxatives

Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may suggest prescription-strength variations of these drugs.

Although the prescription medications have the same ingredients as OTC versions, they may be more potent and effective at alleviating constipation. Common prescription medications include:

  • Lactulose

  • Linaclotide

  • Lubiprostone

  • Plecanatide

  • Polyethylene glycol

  • Prucalopride

Diet and lifestyle changes

In addition to using medications, constipation can also be managed by making certain lifestyle adjustments, such as:

  • Diet: Increasing fiber intake is one of the first steps in treating constipation. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Drinking enough fluids to stay well-hydrated is also essential.

  • Exercise: Regular exercise, including daily walks or light physical activity, can promote more consistent bowel movements.

  • Routine: Establishing a regular time each day for bowel movements, particularly after meals, can help create a consistent bowel routine that can help prevent constipation in the future.

Other treatments

In severe cases of constipation, or if medications and lifestyle changes prove ineffective, your doctor may recommend alternative constipation treatment options. These include:

  • Biofeedback therapy: For those with constipation caused by pelvic floor dysfunction, biofeedback therapy can be effective. This therapy helps patients relearn how to use their pelvic floor muscles correctly during bowel movements.

  • Surgical interventions: In rare cases — such as when constipation is caused by structural issues in the colon — surgery might be considered. This could involve removing a section of the colon that is not working correctly.

  • Probiotics: Some evidence suggests that probiotics can help improve gut health and may be beneficial in treating constipation. However, more research is needed to confirm their efficacy.

Can Constipation Be Prevented?

While not all cases of constipation can be prevented, implementing certain strategies can help you manage your discomfort. These include:

  • Limiting your intake of foods that contribute to constipation, including high-fat and processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine

  • Incorporating probiotic-rich foods into your diet, such as yogurt, kefir, or sauerkraut

  • Exercising more regularly

  • Managing stress with techniques like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises

In addition to alleviating discomfort, these strategies can also help you improve your digestive health and reduce your risk of becoming constipated.

When Should You See a Doctor About Constipation?

Occasional constipation is usually not cause for concern and can often be resolved using simple home remedies.

However, there are certain instances where it’s recommended to make an appointment with your doctor. These include:

  • Persistent constipation that lasts more than three weeks

  • Having blood in the stool

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Unexplained or unintended weight loss

  • Notable changes in bowel habits

  • Symptoms like nausea, vomiting, fatigue, or anemia

These symptoms may indicate a more serious health condition that requires professional treatment to prevent further complications.

Your doctor can help identify what this condition may be and recommend appropriate treatment options to help you manage and overcome it.

Where Can You Learn More About Maintaining Bowel Health?

If you’re concerned about constipation or want to know more about a healthy bowel, LifeMD is here to help.

A team of medical professionals can assist you with information and provide guidance on maintaining a healthy bowel and digestive system to prevent any complications.

Make an appointment with LifeMD today to learn more about digestive health — all from the comfort of your home.

LifeMD makes it easy to stay on top of your health because talking to a doctor, filling your prescriptions, getting your labs done—and more—are all easy and cost-effective. Come discover a healthcare solution built around you and your life.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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