Can Menopause Cause Constipation? | Home Remedies & Treatment

Last updated 01.23.2024 | by Dr. Karen Pike | 9 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


Constipation affects around 16 out of 100 adults at any one time. There are many different causes for this common condition, and believe it or not, menopause is one of them. 

However, most women aren’t aware of the connection between constipation and menopause. So, when the problem strikes, they assume another underlying cause must be to blame. But that’s not necessarily true. That’s why it’s essential for women of menopausal age to understand how constipation can be linked to their hormones. 

Throughout my menopause research, I’ve been fascinated to learn that hormonal shifts during menopause can have a direct impact on our bowel habits. So, I’d like to shine some light on this lesser talked about issue so that we can all journey through menopause with a deeper and more complete understanding of what’s happening in our bodies. 

Are you struggling to go to the bathroom? Is constipation making you feel uncomfortable and affecting your everyday life? Don’t worry, help is at hand. In this post, I’ll explain the various home remedies and treatments that can fix the problem and bring you some relief. 

But first, let’s explore the connection between menopause and constipation, and find out why it happens in the first place.

What Causes Constipation During Menopause?

Everybody’s bathroom habits are different. However, if you’re having less than three bowel movements per week, and your stool is solid or dry, there’s a good chance you may be constipated. 

Constipation affects up to 20% of people each year. But thanks to hormone shifts in the body, menopausal women are even more likely to experience this bowel symptom.

Throughout the perimenopausal phase, estrogen and progesterone levels spike and fall before eventually tapering off completely. These changes in hormones can have an effect on your digestive system. And so both constipation and diarrhea are common complaints for women in their 40s and 50s.

But hormones aren’t the only contributing factor. Other changes related to menopause can also add to the problem.

Many women suffer from bouts of stress and anxiety during this transitional time. These symptoms can also have a direct impact on our gastrointestinal tract and contribute to digestive issues, including constipation and slow intestinal movement.

What Home Remedies Can I Use to Ease Menopause-Related Constipation?

Before reaching for the medicine cabinet, I advise women to try certain home remedies to ease their constipation symptoms. Often, these interventions are enough to fix the problem. So, if you’re suffering from menopause-related constipation, follow the advice below and work on your lifestyle choices.

Drink Plenty of Water

Dehydration can slow down your digestive system and make constipation worse. Your body needs adequate fluids to keep your bowels moving as they should. So be sure to drink the recommended 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) every day, as drinking lots of water helps with constipation. 

To make sure my fluid levels are topped up, I like to carry a reusable water bottle with me wherever I go. This makes it easy to stay hydrated, whether I’m at work, in my car, running errands, or out with friends.

Eat Plenty of Fiber

Fiber plays an essential role in healthy digestion. Eating high-fiber foods can speed up digestion. There are two types of fiber; insoluble fiber and soluble fiber.

Insoluble fiber is commonly found in vegetables, whole grains, and wheat bran. It acts as a bulking agent in the stool, helping to clear your bowels quicker and more effectively.

Soluble fiber is abundant in nuts, seeds, lentils, peas, and oat bran. It draws water into your stool, softening it and helping your bowels to pass stools more smoothly.

So, incorporating both of these types of fiber into your diet can improve symptoms of constipation and help to get things moving again. 

Get Plenty of Exercise

Constipation is uncomfortable, and if you’re struggling to poop, hitting the gym or going for a jog might be the last thing on your mind.

But exercise can help to stimulate the digestive tract and wake up the muscles in your bowel. So, try to incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity into your routine each week.

Harness the Power of Probiotics

Thanks to their positive impact on gut flora, probiotics have been shown to improve bowel motility and alleviate constipation. You can find probiotics in yogurts and certain fermented foods, or you can also take them in supplement form.

Eat Fruits such as Prunes, Kiwi, Mango and Figs

These have natural laxative qualities. Prunes have been shown in a blinded, randomized controlled study to be as effective as psyllium in improving constipation symptoms. 

Don’t Hold it in

When the urge to go happens, don’t wait to go to the toilet and hold it in. Instead, visit the bathroom as soon as possible. Holding it in can make the problem worse. It can even trigger a bout of constipation in otherwise healthy bowels.

What Treatments Are Available for Menopause-Related Constipation?

Constipation isn’t a life-threatening condition, but it can become severely uncomfortable and painful if the problem continues. In my years as an emergency room doctor, I’ve treated several patients suffering acute pain due to constipation. So, if the home remedies above aren’t helping, it’s important to seek medical advice from your doctor. They may suggest over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help to tackle the problem.

The most commonly prescribed treatment for constipation is laxatives.

Laxatives come in a variety of types and generally work by loosening stools and stimulating bowel movements. Most are available over the counter (OTC). These are designed to treat occasional bouts of constipation. Bulk laxatives containing fiber supplements or psyllium and osmotic agents such as polyethylene glycol (Miralax) are some of the more gentle options. Other more potent laxatives contain motility agents such as sennosides (Senokol and El lax) or bisacodyl (Dulcolax) Finally, Glycerin suppositories and various enemas are also available over the counter. If constipation is an ongoing problem, however, please discuss with your healthcare provider the best treatment approach.

Note: Laxatives should only be used as short-term treatment. Always read the dosage guidelines before taking any laxative, as a high dose can cause severe cramping and diarrhea. Prolonged use can also lead to dependency.

Are There Any Specific Foods to Avoid When Suffering From Menopause Constipation?

Certain foods can help alleviate the constipation symptoms, but others can make the condition worse.

So, if you’re struggling to maintain regular bowel movements, try cutting out the following foods for a while and see if you notice an improvement.

Dairy

Dairy products are known to slow down digestion in some people. They can also create hardened stools and contribute to bloating and gas.

So far, scientific research examining the link between dairy and constipation has been largely focused on infants and children. And in this demographic, the evidence is pretty clear. In one study, nine out of the thirteen juvenile participants found relief from constipation when they swapped dairy milk with soy milk.

Unfortunately, there’s not much literature to definitively prove that the same is true for women during menopause. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that it is.

Red Meat

Unlike fish and poultry, red meat contains high amounts of saturated fat. Studies show that fatty foods take much longer to digest than those with lower amounts of fat. As a result, this slowing of digestion can increase the chances of developing constipation and make existing constipation even worse.

Red meat also contains zero fiber. So, when eaten in larger quantities, it can take the place of constipation, busting high-fiber options in your diet.

Gluten

Some people can tolerate gluten perfectly well. However, an estimated 0.5- 1% of people suffer from celiac disease. This condition causes the immune system to attack the gut, which can cause constipation and a myriad of other gastric symptoms.

An even larger percentage of the population has issues such as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGA) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which can cause a person’s gut to react negatively to wheat.

FAQs

Can HRT help with menopause-related constipation?

Constipation during menopause is often triggered by shifts in hormones. So, rebalancing your hormones, such as estrogen, with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help to relax the constipation symptoms and keep your bowels working as they should. 
That being said, a doctor is unlikely to prescribe HRT for constipation alone. This line of treatment is designed to help with many of the symptoms of menopause, including hot flashesnight sweats, and mood swings. However, it also comes with considerable risks of side effects. So, it’s not for everyone. Talk to your doctor to find out if HRT could be a suitable treatment plan for you.

Are there any natural supplements that can help with menopause-related constipation?

Certain supplements such as magnesium, senna, aloe vera, and carnitine are known to help ease the discomfort of constipation, and in some cases, they can fix the problem completely. Just ensure to take your doctor’s advice before starting any new supplement to make sure it’s suitable for you.

Can constipation be a symptom of an underlying medical condition?

Constipation during menopause isn’t usually a sign of an underlying condition. In most cases, the discomfort is caused by a hormone imbalance that affects the gut.
However, certain conditions, such as an underactive thyroid or diabetes, can cause constipation. So, if your constipation is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s time to visit your doctor.

Conclusion

Constipation is an unwelcome sign of menopause for many women. But thankfully, there are several home remedies and treatment options that can help to tackle the problem.

Remember, if you’re suffering from persistent or severe constipation, visit your doctor. They can assess your symptoms, rule out any underlying conditions, help you understand the root cause, and find a treatment plan that works for you.

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Author

  • Dr. Karen Pike

    Dr. Pike is a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. She received her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and played collegiate soccer. She attended Georgetown University for medical school and performed her residency in emergency medicine at Stanford University. She was part of the first-ever, women-majority emergency medicine program in United States. Dr. Pike is also the primary medical consultant for “Grey’s Anatomy,” a role she has held since the pilot episode when she partnered with Shonda Rhimes as the show’s original medical consultant. At her hospital, she was the second woman Chief of Staff. Today serves as the Director of the Emergency Department. Whether in leadership or direct patient care, her dedication to excellence in communication, quality, and collaboration is unwavering.