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Understanding the Causes of Bloating & Constipation

Constipation occurs when one has fewer than three bowel movements each week. It could also refer to only being able to produce partial movements or straining during bowel movements. The condition can escalate to chronic constipation if the there are less than three movements a week for several weeks or months. Bloating occurs when the stomach area is distended for three days or more within three months.

The cause of bloating and constipation can depend on the individual, but the discomfort associated with each can motivate many people to seek treatment. People suffering from these conditions often begin with self-treatment options, such as dietary changes and over-the-counter medicine. If these are ineffective, many seek medical treatment from a doctor.

Over-the-Counter and Prescribed Medication

Understanding the Causes of Bloating & ConstipationA common belief is that eating more fiber is effective at treating constipation, and so many people begin self-treatment by increasing dietary fiber intake. However, fiber may not be effective at alleviating the condition if there are other factors involved. Some over-the-counter and prescribed medications have been shown to cause constipation. In the study “Chronic Constipation: Advances in Management,” A. Wald from the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health discovered that many drugs that contain aluminum can be a contributing factor for some individuals. Aluminum is a common ingredient in many dietary supplements, such as antacids and iron pills, and in many prescriptions, such as anti-depressants and anti-psychotics.

One should take note of all changes in medications to see if a correlation exists between the new medicine and the onset of bloating or constipation. If no correlation is found, more serious factors should be taken into consideration

Bloating and Constipation Caused by Medical Conditions

A more thorough investigation into one’s medical history is appropriate if diet and medication changes are ruled out as contributing factors. Some other conditions have been associated with bloating and constipation, including the following:

  • PregnancyUnderstanding the Causes of Bloating & Constipation
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Lesions to the spinal cord

What these conditions have in common is that they have been shown to diminish optimal body function, specifically the ability to propel waste along the body’s large intestines. A doctor can determine if this is a possibility through a series of exams, such as colonoscopies, examination of stool samples, and digital rectal scans.

Bloating Symptoms and Causes

A person suffering from bloating will experience a noticeable extension of the stomach area for three or more days in a given month, lasting for three or more consecutive months. In their report “Functional Bowel Disorders,” Longstreth, Thompson, et al. found that bloating occurs when there is a buildup of excess gas in the intestines or when there is dysfunction with moving gas out of the intestines. It should be noted that bloating can be classified into two categories.

Intermittent bloating is caused by a buildup of gas in the intestines. Continuous bloating is caused by obesity or when an abdominal organ becomes abnormally enlarged.

A common misconception with bloating is that it is caused by intolerance to certain foods or by retaining water, however Longstreth, Thompson, et al. have found that this is not true in every individual. Food and lifestyle changes should be taken into account first, then changes in medication. If these are ineffective, a complete assessment performed by a healthcare professional could be necessary.

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*The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the Editor. Results may vary from person to person and cannot be guaranteed.

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