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Can Stress Cause Constipation? Yes, in Both Adults and Children

Could stress be causing your constipation or is it something else? Here's what one expert has to say.

Can Stress Cause Constipation? Yes, in Both Adults and Children

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Life can be challenging, and we all get stressed out. Whether it’s work, school, or family, there are lots of things that lead to stress. If you find you have trouble going to the bathroom during these times, you might be wondering—can stress cause constipation? Here’s what you need to know, along with some helpful expert advice about the links between stress and constipation.

Can stress cause constipation?

Registered Dietician and Hilma nutrition advisor Megan DeChatelets, MS, RDN, CDN, tells me that the brain and gut are intricately connected. “Stress triggers the release of hormones like cortisol, which is involved in the fight-or-flight response, slowing down digestion by diverting blood flow away from the digestive tract and toward other organs necessary for dealing with a perceived threat.”

She also shares that stress plays a role when there are changes in the gut microbiome, called the gut-brain axis. This can potentially result in imbalanced healthy bacteria levels. She adds that stress can impact dietary choices (after all, many of us end up eating unhealthy and constipating foods when we are stressed out) and hydration levels, both of which can contribute to constipation.

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How do I know if stress is causing constipation?

Not sure if you are constipated because of stress or perhaps because of something you ate? “It can be difficult to decipher causes of digestive changes because there are so many contributing factors,” says DeChatelets. “If nothing else has changed in your normal daily routine such as diet, exercise, and hydration, however you experience a major shift in digestion, you may want to consider if stress could be the cause.”

If you want more personalized insight into this issue, the RD recommends keeping track of your symptoms by writing them down. “It can be helpful to log symptoms or observe shifts in your stress levels when noticing bowel changes.”

woman sitting in a chair holding her back in pain iStock

How do you get rid of stress constipation?

Getting rid of stress constipation isn’t always easy. DeChatelets tells me, “If you know that stress is causing your constipation, focus on stress management and relaxation strategies such as breathing techniques, meditation, regular physical activity, or doing something you enjoy. It also helps to ensure you are eating regular balanced meals, adequate fiber, and properly hydrating during increased stress.”

Then there’s the cycle of constipation-related stress. You’re stressed, so you don’t have bowel movements, leading to more stress and increased constipation. If this is the case, you may consider consuming extra fiber or taking a supplement. DeChatelets recommends trying Hilma’s Fiber Gummies. “They are a quick and easy way to get plant-based, prebiotic fiber that promotes bowel regularity.”

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More fiber can make a bowel movement much easier to pass. If you’re experiencing a feeling of abdominal fullness, it may help to take these a few times a week until everything subsides.

If you’re still not going regularly after eliminating sources of stress and improving your diet, you should probably talk to your doctor.

Young Asian woman sitting on the toilet bowl and suffering from constipation Pattarisara Suvichanarakul / Getty Images

FAQs

What are some causes of constipation?

In addition to stress, there are many other possible causes of constipation. “Dietary factors such as low fiber intake, excessive dairy or dietary fat consumption, and inadequate hydration are major factors. Lack of movement can also contribute. Changes in routine or lifestyle may cause constipation, such as disruptions to sleep, eating patterns, or traveling. Hormonal fluctuations, certain medical conditions, and certain medications can also cause constipation,” explains DeChatelets.

What are some quick and easy ways to relieve constipation?

DeChatelets recommends drinking water or eating prunes, kiwis, or chia pudding. Don’t have these on hand? Try going for a walk. These should be a go-to for constipated kids.

Taking Hilma’s Gentle Bowel Movement Support is another option. “It contains magnesium citrate, ginger, bitter orange, and anise, which are natural ingredients to increase gut motility and gently induce a bowel movement. It’s not habit-forming and contains no additives or chemicals, which can exacerbate gut problems.”

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Not all laxatives, even natural ones, are suitable for little ones. Before starting any new medications, make sure to discuss them with your pediatrician.

Can constipation go away on its own?

“Mild constipation can resolve on its own. However, if the cause of constipation is not addressed, the issue can be persistent or recurrent and often requires some intervention such as diet or lifestyle change, home remedies, supplements, or medical care,” notes the RD.

Experts

  • Registered Dietician and Hilma nutrition advisor Megan DeChatelets MS, RDN, CDN

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