Can Constipation Be a Symptom of Hypothyroidism?

This common problem is due to reduced gut motility

Constipation is a common symptom for people with an underactive thyroid, a condition called hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism slows down many of your body's systems, including digestion and elimination; some people can end up being chronically constipated as a result of their disease.

This article will explore whether constipation could be a symptom of hypothyroidism, other potential causes of constipation, and treatment options.

the link between hypothyroidism and constipation

Verywell / Laura Porter

What Is Constipation?

Constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements in a week. Other than the frequency of defecation, other criteria used to define constipation include symptoms like:

  • Needing to strain during bowel movements
  • Lumpy or hard stools
  • Pain during elimination
  • A sensation that bowel movements are incomplete or blocked in some way

Is Constipation a Symptom of Hypothryoidism?

Constipation is a common symptom of hypothyroidism, in which the thyroid gland—a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck—does not make enough thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormones control the way your body uses energy and affect nearly every organ in the body. Without enough thyroid hormone, many of your body’s functions slow down.

The primary cause of constipation in hypothyroidism is due to reduced gut motility. Normally, muscles in the colon contract to move the stool through the intestine toward the rectum. In hypothyroidism, the muscles don't contract frequently or strongly enough, causing the stool to move too slowly through the colon.

There are many other causes of constipation besides hypothyroidism, including not getting enough fiber in the diet, not drinking enough liquids, and certain medications.

Treatments and Management of Constipation

The most important thing is to make sure your thyroid treatment is optimized, as insufficient treatment may contribute to constipation problems.

Other strategies to relieve constipation include:

Increasing Fiber Intake

Dietary changes are a good start for managing constipation. Try to get around 25 to 31 grams of fiber a day. High-fiber foods include beans, fruits and vegetables, and whole-grain bread and cereals. A fiber supplement can help you find it challenging to get the right amount of daily fiber through your diet.

Time Meals Wisely

Be aware that fiber in your diet (and fiber supplements) may affect the absorption of your thyroid hormone. This is why it's important to take your thyroid medication first thing in the morning and then wait two to three hours before eating or taking any other medications or supplements.

Making Lifestyle Changes

Other changes you can make that may help relieve constipation include:

  • Staying hydrated: Make sure that you're drinking enough liquid. This means at least 64 ounces a day (not including caffeinated beverages).
  • Exercising: Daily exercise helps get your intestines moving. Even a short walk is helpful, so try to incorporate some activity into your daily routine.
  • Paying attention to signals: Don't ignore, put off, or delay the urge for a bowel movement. Go as soon as you feel the need.
  • Changing medications: Since certain medications can contribute to constipation, talk to your healthcare provider if you think any of yours might be making the situation worse. Your dose can perhaps be changed, or your practitioner may recommend that you take something else. However, don't ever change the dose yourself or just quit taking a medication without getting your medical professional's approval first.

Laxatives

If you've tried diet and lifestyle changes and are still suffering from chronic constipation, ask your healthcare provider about laxatives. There are both over-the-counter and prescription options available.

Laxatives can be habit-forming, so it's best not to self-treat with them and to only use them for a short period of time. Talk to your healthcare provider for guidance.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

Contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms in relation to constipation:

Occasionally, chronic constipation can lead to complications. The most common are hemorrhoids, rectal prolapse, or fecal impaction.

Summary

Constipation is a common symptom in hypothyroidism as a result of a slowing of the digestive system. In most cases, constipation can be relieved by having your thyroid medication adjusted or making certain dietary and lifestyle changes.

A Word From Verywell

If changes in your medication or conservative measures are not effective and you're still experiencing chronic constipation, your healthcare provider may recommend that you consult with a gastroenterologist for diagnostic testing.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Constipation.

  3. Constipation. Health Encyclopedia. University of Rochester Medical Center.

  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Constipation.

  5. The lowdown on thyroid slowdown. Harvard Medical School. 2019.

  6. Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Constipation. National Institutes of Health. 2018.

  7. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. Levothyroxine.

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  9. Treatment for Constipation. National Institutes of Health. 2018.

Additional Reading

By Mary Shomon
Mary Shomon is a writer and hormonal health and thyroid advocate. She is the author of "The Thyroid Diet Revolution."