Causes and Risk Factors of Constipation

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Constipation is certainly an uncomfortable state of affairs. Often what is needed to ease the symptoms is to try to figure out what is causing constipation in the first place. Most of the time, constipation is not due to a serious disease, but rather can be attributed to lifestyle factors or taking certain medications.

Common Causes

Constipation results when stool is not eliminated from the large intestine in a timely manner, typically less than three times per week. While it can happen at any age, it is more frequent in pregnant and post-partum women, and people who have lower income levels. People who have mental health conditions such as depression or an eating disorder have a higher risk of constipation.

There is a wide variety of causes behind constipation. These can include:

  • Lifestyle factors and habits
  • Other medical conditions
  • Some classes of medications taken for different health problems

Medication Side Effects

Many medications used to treat other health conditions may cause constipation as a side effect, including:

  • Antacids containing calcium or aluminum
  • Anticholinergic medications (antispasmodics)
  • Antidepressants
  • Antihistamines (allergy medications)
  • Calcium channel blockers (for high blood pressure)
  • Diuretics
  • Iron supplements
  • Narcotic pain medications
  • Some seizure medications
  • Some blood pressure medications
  • Some herbal supplements

Health Conditions

There are many health conditions in which constipation may be a symptom, including:


Any cancer that affects the functioning of the colon can cause constipation. It is important to note that colon cancer also typically presents itself with symptoms of weight loss, fatigue, and signs of blood in the stool:

Neurological Causes

The following conditions affect the functioning of the muscles in the colon and rectum, which must contract to move stool. If the nerves that trigger these muscles are affected, it can result in constipation:

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Dyssynergic defecation is a form of pelvic floor dysfunction, in which the muscles of the pelvic floor do not work as they should. A primary symptom of dyssynergic defecation is constipation.

Structural Causes

The following conditions involve a structural problem within the digestive system that can contribute to the symptom of constipation.


Because constipation often runs in families, there may be some genetic predisposition to this condition, as well as environmental factors such as shared habits and similar diets. Children with chronic constipation often have family members who are constipated.

There is a rare genetic condition, Hirschsprung disease, in which the nerves required to move stool through the intestinal tract are absent. This can occur due to a chromosomal disorder or due to specific genetic combinations. In this disease, the symptoms are seen in the first 2 months of life.

Lifestyle Causes

Because the following constipation causes are reflective of personal choice, they offer you some guidelines for improving your bowel habits:

  • Excess dairy intake
  • Low-fiber diet
  • Inadequate water intake throughout the day
  • Holding back bowel movements, ignoring urges to use the bathroom
  • Insufficient exercise, being sedentary most of the day
  • Travel or changes in your routine

You may not realize how low your diet is in fiber. If you mostly eat processed foods, dairy, and meat, you may be lacking this essential nutrient. High-fiber foods are a recommended part of a healthy diet. If you aren't eating a good quantity of vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grain products, look for ways to include them.

As well, if you have a sedentary job or habits, make it a point to get up and move around each hour. Exercise as simple as a brisk 15-minute walk can help your digestive tract do its job better.

A Word From Verywell

If you are experiencing constipation on a regular basis, you need to make an appointment with your physician to accurately pinpoint what is going on, as well as to establish a treatment plan. Your doctor will work with you on developing a management plan that is right for you.

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Article Sources

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