Causes of Constipation

Constipation is a condition of the digestive system where the bowel movements are infrequent or hard to pass. This occurs because the colon has absorbed too much water from the food that is in the colon in most of the cases.

Updated: October 10, 2017

Constipation is a condition of the digestive system where the bowel movements are infrequent or hard to pass.  This occurs because the colon has absorbed too much water from the food that is in the colon in most of the cases. The slower the food moves through the digestive tract, the more water the colon will absorb from it resulting in dry and hard feces. This will cause emptying the bowels(defecation) very painful and difficult. 

Causes of Constipation:

If the muscles in the colon are contracting slowly or poorly, the colon absorbs too much water from the food which causes the stool to move too slowly and lose more water resulting in constipation. Cause of constipation are multifactorial. Several factors can increase your chances of having constipation, including:

Lack of fiber in diet:

The most common cause of constipation is not eating enough fibre, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains and cereals. Fiber promotes bowel movements and prevents constipation. People whose diets include a good quantity of fiber are significantly less likely to suffer from constipation.

Physical inactivity:

If someone becomes too physically inactive, that can cause constipation. This is especially the case in older adults as they tend to have a more sedentary life compared with younger people . For persons who have been bedridden for a long time, their risk of having constipation is significantly high. Physical activity keeps our metabolism high, making the digestion and excretion processes more rapidly in our body.
Physically active people are much less likely to develop constipation than inactive people.


Side effect of a medicine that you are taking may sometimes cause constipation . Common types of medication that can cause constipation include:

  • antidepressants 
  • aluminium antacids use to treat indigestion
  • calcium supplements
  • iron supplements
  • opiate painkillers, such as codeine and morphine
  • diuretics or water tablets
  • antiepileptics use to treat epilepsy
  • antipsychotics use to treat schizophrenia and other mental health conditions

Milk and Dairy products:

Some people will have constipation when they consume milk and dairy products.

Irritable bowel syndrome:

People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are much likely to have constipation.


During pregnancy your body produces more of the female hormone progesterone, which acts as a muscle relaxant. An increase in progesterone makes it more difficult for the bowel muscles to contract, making it harder for the bowel movement causing constipation.
Also, the uterus may compress the intestine, slowing down the passage of food.


As we grow older, our metabolism slows down, resulting in less intestinal activity. The muscles in the digestive tract do not function well as they used to do before.

Changes in routine:

When we travel, our normal routine changes such as meals are eaten at different times, we might go to bed, get up, and go to the toilet at different times.  This can have an effect on our digestive system, which sometimes results in constipation.

Overuse of laxatives:

Laxatives are used to help bowel movements. However, using them regularly allows the body to get used to their action and gradually the dose needs to increase to get the same effect. Laxatives should not be used more frequently. When a person become dependent on them, there is a significant risk of constipation when they are stopped.

Ignoring the urge to pass stools:

If a person ignore the urge to have a bowel movement and does not to the toilet to pass the stool, the urge can gradually go away until the individual no longer feels the need to go. The longer it is delayed, the drier and harder the stool will become. 

Not drinking enough water: 

Not drinking enough water and fluid can be a cause of constipation. Regularly drinking plenty of water reduces the risk of constipation.
Caffeinated drinks such as sodas and coffee should be avoided which can cause dehydration and worsen constipation. Alcohol also dehydrates the body and should be avoided by persons who are constipated or very susceptible to constipation.

Problems with the colon or rectum:

If the problems are associated with colon or rectum such as tumors, scar tissues , diverticulosis, and abnormal narrowing of the colon or rectum  known as colorectal stricture can cause constipation. Tumors can compress or restrict the passages where as other issues make the bowel movement difficult.
People with a birth defect in which some nerve cells are absent in the large intestine known as  Hirschsprung disease are susceptible to constipation.

Some diseases and conditions:

The movement of feces through the colon, rectum, or anus can be slow down due to some disease which causes constipation. These include the following:

  • Some endocrine and metabolic conditions such as diabetes, uremia, hypercalcemia, poor glycemic control, hypothyroidism.
  • Cancer developed due to pain medications and chemotherapy. Also, a tumor can block or squeezes the digestive system.
  • Some neurological disorders such as MS (Multiple Sclerosis), stroke, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction.
  • Systemic diseases which include lupus, scleroderma, amyloidosis. These are diseases that affect a number of organs and tissues, or affect the whole body.
  • Anal fissure which is a small tear or ulcer in the skin just inside the anus .
  • Inflammatory bowel disease is a condition that causes the intestines to become inflamed (irritated and swollen) .
  • Bowel cancer

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