Causes of Constipation


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The causes of constipation are legion. To understand how constipation is caused, we shall briefly discuss the function of the large bowel which is responsible for constipation occuring or not.

The large bowel does not help in digestion of food.

What it does is to absorb water from the remnant of the digested food material as it passes down towards the anus or back passage.

To put this in perspective, about 1500mL of fluid is passed down to our large bowel daily. Only less than 100mL is passed in faeces. The rest is absorbed by the large bowel.

This is what makes stool hard. Once water is sufficiently withdrawn from the faeces as it passes down the gut, the remnant of digested food is now called faeces.

If too much time is taken for the remnant of digested food to pass down the gut, there will be lots of time for more water than usual to be drawn from the faeces, making the stool hard and thus difficult to pass.

Normally, it takes between 24 to 100 hours for digested food remnant to pass from the beginning of the large intestine (Caecum) to reach the end (rectum).

Any thing that interferes with either the speed of passage of faeces down the large bowel, or absorption of water from the faeces, will thus cause constipation. But what are the common causes of constipation?

The common causes of constipation not surprisingly include:

Low fibre diet

Fibre is the part of our vegetable, fruit, or food generally that the body can not digest. They are also called roughages.

They help to provide bulk to the faeces and facilitate movement of faeces down the gut. The remnant of digested food will therefore not have too much time to loiter behind in the gut and for so much water to be with drawn from it and become hard stool.

Western diet tends to be lacking in high fibre diet. It is recommended that at least 30 grams of fibre should be taken by adults per day. Foods that are rich in fibre include

• Vegetables

• Fruits

• Jacket potatoes

• Brown rice

• Breakfast cereals

• Wholemeal (brown) bread

• Wholemeal pasta

• Nuts

Including any of these in your diet may help overcome constipation.

Low fibre diet consumption is the single most implicated causes of constipation across all age groups. Interestingly, it is one of the causes of constipation that can be eliminated with minimal effort.

Not drinking enough water

Not drinking enough water means the body must squeeze every drop of water it can get from the remnant of digested food as it passes down the gut to salvage water for the body’s use. This leaves the partially digested food material going down the gut concentrated and "strong", setting the pace for constipation.

This again, is thus one of the causes of constipation. Drinking a lot of water or fluid is important in preventing constipation. It is suggested that at least 2 litres or eight to ten glass of fluid be drank per day as drinks.

Drinking water alone will not prevent constipation if you do not take high fibre diet.

Too much tea or coffee

Tea and coffee contains caffeine. This causes the body to loose water a lot via the urine.

Drinking too much tea or coffee or too concentrated preparation will mean more water will be lost from your system, as they will be lost in urine. Thus if you drink too much coffee, it could be one of the causes of constipation in you.

The body will try to compensate by with drawing as much water as possible from faeces, making it hard and truly hard to pass.

Lack of exercise

Inactivity of lack of exercises will mean the gut will be very slow. This will give more than enough time for transit of faeces and absorption of water, thus hardening the stool.

Before you decide to do exercises, be sure you are fit, and can tolerate the exercise. Always check with your doctor. Too much exercise, like any other thing in life is not also good for you.


Medications are another causes of constipation.

Medications we take can affect the bowel in so many different ways.

Medications like codeine phosphate or Cocodamol, morphine or MST contains what doctors call opiates. They slow down the speed of movement of the gut, thus causing constipation.

If you must take these medications while you have constipation then, take them with a laxative or high fibre diet and loads of fluids.

Other medications that are pinned as causes of constipation are aluminium containing antacids used in the treatment of peptic ulcer or excess acidity, iron tablets, some medications used in treatment of high blood pressure.

The rule of thumb is that if you are on any long term medication; take a few minutes to read the information leaflet for guidance on the possible complications it causes. Your pharmacist will be an invaluable help in guiding you on medications and their side effects.

If you are taking medications that cause or worsen constipation, and you really need to take them, know that you can have some other medications that will help to loosen your stool along side. Ask your doctor.

Fear to go to the Loo from Pain

Commoner in toddlers as common one of the common causes of constipation.Some are unable to respond immediately to the “call of nature”. This may be due to a painful condition around the anus like in anal fissure or even a bad pile.

Should this happen, you need to see your doctor quickly and be given medication to resolve the pain where possible, and or laxative to encourage defaecation.


Some with piles postpones going to the loo due to fear they may bleed. This gain will easily cause even harder stool and a thrombosed (where the blood clots in the vein of the pile causing severe pain and ache in the back passage or anus) piles

Problems with the bowel structure

Bowel Stricture refers to any narrowing in the wall of the bowel. It could be due to inherited disorders.

Some diseases like Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, or bowel cancer could cause bowel wall narrowing. If this occurs, it will reduce the passage time of the bowel content, thus leading to constipation.

Diverticulitis is one of the most common causes of constipation in the developed world.

Problems with the bowel function

Irritable bowel syndrome is a perfect example of diseases that affects bowel functions, causing constipation.


Poor mobility of the gut during stroke is the cause of constipation here.

Over use of laxatives

Ironically, laxatives used to treat constipation, when used in too much an amount will lead to constipation.

This is because the laxative could cause relaxation and distension of the bowel wall, thus leading to sluggish passage of stool downwards.

This is one of the common causes of constipation, especially the chronic type, yet often overlooked.


Depression can lead to constipation. The way this happens is due to the fact that during depression, one is not interested in most things in life.

This include not choosing a balanced fibre rich diet, not drinking enough water, and most importantly, not responding quickly to nature’s call or not even having the urge to do so.

Poor toilet facilities

This is quite familiar. Have you found your self constipated after coming back from a holiday or journey where the toilet facility is not great? Holding back from opening our bowel in such circumstances is to be blamed here.

Other illnesses like thyroid problems

Thyroid diseases especially reduced thyroid hormones in our body causes a general slowing of every system in us. This encourages constipation. This explains why excess thyroid hormones could cause us to have diarrhoea too.

Generally, the bowel help in removing water from the food we eat as the digested food moves down the gut. It also secretes some water and mucus. Any disruption in these functions will easily fall into causes of constipation.



Read About


Symptoms of Constipation

Constipation Remedy

Constipation During Pregnancy

Infant Constipation

Causes of Constipation? See IBS as a Cause

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