Why Women Are 208% More Likely to Suffer from Constipation Than Men – The Surprising Reasons Behind It

Posted by Dr. DM Roopa

Constipation is when you have fewer than three bowel movements a week with stools that may be hard, dry, lumpy and which may be difficult or painful to pass. You may have a feeling that the bowel hasn’t emptied completely. 

Occasional constipation is quite common.  However, chronic, and ongoing constipation is not just uncomfortable, but it can also take a toll on the quality of your life. Chronic constipation that isn’t treated can lead to complications, some more serious than others. 

According to Ayurveda, constipation occurs due to an imbalance in Vata dosha which disturbs your colon, inhibiting its proper functioning.  The holistic approach of ayurveda focuses on balancing the vata dosha to treat and cure constipation.

Reasons that make women more prone to constipation.

Chronic constipation tends to be more common in women than men and not just that, it’s increasingly common in women as they get older. 

It is still not fully understood why women are more susceptible to constipation as compared to men. In fact, the major causes of constipation, such as low fiber diet, less fluid intake, medications etc. are equally shared by men and women. 

However, there are several other factors which are specific to women, that can increase constipation in women such as:

Progesterone levels:

Increase in progesterone levels can be the cause of women being more prone to constipation. A rise in progesterone levels relaxes and slows down the muscles of the intestine leading to constipation. This hormone is present in greater amounts in women, than in men.

Menstruation:

Hormone fluctuations associated with the menstrual cycle can often cause constipation. Just before the onset of menstruation, the women’s body has a surge of progesterone. This can slow down the digestive system, possibly resulting in constipation just before and during periods. 

Pregnancy:

Pregnant women often face severe constipation because there is a rise in the progesterone levels during this period, which can also slow down the movement of food through the digestive tract, making constipation more likely. 

Pregnancy and childbirth may also have adverse effects on bowel habits as they weaken the muscles of pelvic floor. Pressure from the increasing weight of the growing fetus can increase pressure on your bowel, making it harder for waste to be expelled out of your body.

Menopause:

Constipation is common in postmenopausal women, and in the years leading to it. It may be the result of a decline in the levels of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone during this period that can slow down the process of food passing through the digestive tract. When the digestive process takes a longer time, more water is reabsorbed back into the bloodstream, leading to constipation.  

Also, some postmenopausal women may have weakened pelvic floor muscles. This can make it all the more difficult to eliminate stools, especially when it is hard and dry.

Low thyroid hormone:

Low thyroid hormone levels is a very common medical cause of constipation. It is more common in women than men. 

Stress:

Women are twice as likely to suffer from severe stress and anxiety when compared to men. Unfortunately, stress hormones  can affect gut health and digestion, which can lead to constipation. In addition, when stressed, someone is less likely to have a healthy diet, get proper exercise or sleep, or stay hydrated, all of which aggravates constipation.

Other causes and risk factors for constipation

Other common causes of constipation include:

  1. Medications. Constipation is a side effect of many prescription and over-the-counter drugs.  These include, sedatives, iron supplements, opioid pain medications, certain antidepressants, medications to lower blood pressure or even laxatives.
  2. Lack of fiber in the diet. Fiber acts as a natural laxative, which holds water in the stool, increases its bulk and makes it easy to pass. If your diet is low in foods rich in fiber such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts, it can affect digestion and passing of stools.
  3. Insufficient fluid intake. Dehydration, as a result of insufficient fluid intake can cause constipation.
  4. Underlying medical conditions 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome 
  • Endocrine disorders like diabetes, hypothyroidism, hypercalcemia, hyperparathyroidism etc.
  • Delayed emptying of the colon caused by pelvic floor disorders and colon surgery
  • Diverticular disease
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Narrowing of colon or bowel stricture
  • Lazy bowel syndrome in which there is slow movement of stool through the digestive tract, due to poor colon contraction.
  • Neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis etc.
  • Structural defects in the digestive tract like fistula, imperforate anus, colonic atresia, malrotation etc.
  • Diseases like amyloidosis, lupus erythematosus, and scleroderma

5.Old age. Constipation is more common in older adults. This can be attributed to lack of physical activity, use of certain drugs to treat other medical conditions, slower metabolism and less muscle contraction strength along digestive tract in the elderly.

6.Stress: Stress hormones  can affect gut health and digestion, which can lead to constipation.

7.Lack of exercise; Good muscle tone is generally important for regular bowel movements. Lack of exercise can lead to weaker colon muscles that can lead to constipation.

8.Resisting or delaying evacuating: Overriding the urge to pass stool can increase your risk of being constipated as the stool remains in your rectum where it loses more moisture and eventually becomes dry, hard and extremely difficult to eliminate. 

9.Travel or changes in regular routine: Alterations in your daily routine such as traveling, eating, or going to bed at different times can cause constipation in some people.

Signs and symptoms of chronic constipation:

  • Less than three bowel movements in a week 
  • Hard, dry and lumpy stools
  • Straining to have bowel movements
  • Painful bowel movements
  • A sense of incomplete emptying
  • Abdominal pain and bloating

Complications of constipation

For most people constipation rarely causes complications, but people with long-term constipation can develop:

  • Hemorrhoids (piles): Chronic constipation may cause people to strain excessively in order to have a bowel movement, which may lead to the development of hemorrhoids in and around the anus.
  • Anal fissure: An anal fissure is a small tear in the tissue that lines your anus. An anal fissure most often occurs while you pass large or hard stools or strain to have a bowel movement, both of which are common with constipation.
  • Fecal impaction: Chronic constipation can also lead to fecal impaction. This happens when hard stools get stuck in your rectum.
  • Rectal prolapse: Over a period, chronic constipation can cause rectal prolapse where a small amount of rectum protrudes from the anus caused by straining when trying to have a bowel movement.

FAQ

1.Why is constipation more common in women?

Hormonal changes, make women more prone to constipation, which is more likely to happen in women at certain times, such as pregnancy, in the days preceding menstruation and even more common after menopause.

2.Can constipation lead to life-threatening complications?

Constipation may not lead to life-threatening complications. However, untreated constipation can cause complications such as, painful hemorrhoids, anal fissures and rectal prolapse. 

3.Do you need to treat constipation?

Occasional bout of constipation goes away with diet and lifestyle changes. However, chronic constipation that isn’t treated can lead to complications, some more serious than others. 

4. Can having fiber rich diet keep constipation away?

Although it is important to add fiber-rich foods to your daily diet, a fiber rich diet alone may not help. Make sure that you follow a healthy lifestyle along with eating a healthy diet.  If these changes do not work then it is important to see your doctor for further advice.

5.Does overuse of laxatives cause constipation?

Laxatives are common medicines used to treat constipation. However, overusing laxatives can over time can weaken the bowel muscles.

6.Should I consult a doctor if have constipation?

In most cases, constipation improves on its own with simple changes in diet and lifestyle. However, in spite of these changes, if constipation persists and you have pain while passing stools or rectal bleeding, it would be good to consult a doctor.

7. Can ayurvedic treatment for constipation cause any side-effects

Ayurveda medications are usually a very safe and effective option for treating constipation.

At UWAY, our doctors prescribe only proven medicines from well-established and reputed ayurvedic medicine manufacturers. However, just like certain foods do not always agree with everyone, few ayurvedic medicines may cause mild side effects in some patients. This is very rare though.  In case you notice any such issue you can always talk to your consulting doctor or our medical team.

8.What information should I give the doctor while consulting for chronic constipation. 

Consultations for chronic constipation with your Ayurveda doctor can take between 15 to 20 minutes, as they follow a holistic approach to treatment and aim to identify the root cause of your constipation. To ensure a thorough consultation, we kindly ask that you prepare by having any relevant medical records related to your current condition ready, as well as information about medications you are currently taking and any pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, thyroid issues, or cardiac problems. It would also be helpful to make note of your general dietary habits and lifestyle.

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