Hot flashes. Vaginal dryness. And now your digestive system is on a go-slow? This season of your life is certainly not without its interesting plot twists. For many, menopause and constipation can be on the scene at the same time. But why the link? Does menopause cause constipation? And, more importantly, what can you do to find relief?
Let’s take a look.
In this article: 📝
- Is constipation a symptom of menopause?
- Is constipation part of perimenopause?
- Can menopause affect your bowel movements?
- Does progesterone cause constipation?
- What helps with menopause constipation?
Is constipation a symptom of menopause?
Before we get going, here’s the lay of the land.
For starters, what exactly is constipation? According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, constipation is defined as having fewer than three poops a week—none of which may be too keen to depart from your body.
They may be hard and lumpy and, even post-poop, leave you with the feeling that their evacuation plan was not that successful.
Constipation can also come along with a host of other uncomfortable symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal pain, and feelings of sluggishness.
Women appear to be far more likely to experience constipation than men. In this study, for example, the difference between participants was vast, with 19.7% of women versus 10.6% of men experiencing symptoms.
Add age to the equation and the likelihood seems to go up further—26% for women and 15% for men for those older than 65.
Is constipation part of perimenopause?
Menopause is defined as the point 12 months after you have your last period. This usually occurs somewhere in your late forties or early fifties, with the average in the US being 51.
But rather than seeing menopause as a singular moment, it can be more useful to see it as a chapter in your life.
Enter perimenopause—the term we use to describe the time around menopause.
One of the defining features of this time is a marked decline in estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that have been in charge of managing your reproductive system.
This hormonal shift can make itself known in many ways in your body—from temperature troubles to mental health challenges to, yes, digestive issues.
For some, the menopause transition lasts for about three years and is relatively symptom-free. For others, it can last a decade.
Can menopause affect your bowel movements?
The short answer is that it’s common to experience digestive issues during this period of your life.
Several studies (like this one and this one) confirm that over the menopausal transition and beyond, the rate of constipation among women certainly increases.
But while we know that perimenopause and constipation seem to go hand-in-hand, what causes this link is a little less certain. Is it hormones or are there other factors at play?
Does progesterone cause constipation?
While further research is needed to discover the exact nature of the connection, it seems clear that as your progesterone and estrogen levels decrease, digestive complaints increase.
This may be because, as we’ve found out in recent studies, these hormones play a role in gastrointestinal health.
From what we know, of the two key reproductive hormones at work, estrogen appears to have the stronger link with constipation.
That’s because estrogen and estrogen receptors—proteins that activate when estrogen is present—are found in your digestive tract and help move things through.
When estrogen levels slow, so too can your waste management system.
But there’s more to the story.
This study found a direct link between the intensity of constipation symptoms and feelings of stress and anxiety—and, believe it or not, this also has to do with declining estrogen levels.
One of estrogen’s many functions is to keep your levels of cortisol in check.
Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone and is released when you’re feeling under pressure.
If you’ve noticed that you tend to have digestive trouble when you’re stressed, you may already know that there’s a link between high cortisol levels and constipation.
Bottom line? (No terrible pun intended, we swear.) Lower estrogen could equal higher cortisol could equal constipation.
While hormones play a significant role here, they’re not solely responsible.
Pelvic floor muscles—that’s the band that runs from your pubic bone to your tailbone—may weaken during perimenopause.
Because these muscles provide support for your digestive and urinary systems, you may be more vulnerable to conditions that affect this area.
Another reason you may be struggling? Medication.
Yep, it’s not uncommon for our lists of medications to increase as we age.
Certain pain relievers, UTI remedies, blood pressure medications and antihistamines can cause constipation for some people.
What helps with menopause constipation?
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to get things moving along.
Your first port of call? Chat to your doctor to see what treatment might be appropriate for you—and if any of the medications you are currently taking could be getting in the way.
- Stool softeners. Talk to your healthcare provider about what might be right for you. There are a number of over-the-counter options. A key ingredient to watch out for? Polyethylene glycol. This can help your stool to retain water so that it passes through you more easily.
- Upping your fiber intake. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts are all great sources. Pro tip? If you’re increasing your fiber intake, do it slowly. Too much, too soon can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.
- Getting some gentle exercise. More research is needed here, but it seems that exercise can help. Of course, this can be easier said than done when you’re feeling a bit flat. Starting small can help—a little walk around the block, some gentle stretches, a dance party to your favorite song. Add some pelvic floor exercises to the mix for some targeted strength training.
- Drinking more water. The research is young here, too, but upping your fluid intake appears to really help.
- Doing what you can to manage stress. Because of the link between your digestive health and stress, it’s important to carve out the time to find some calm. There is by no means one way to do this. Yoga and meditation can help. As can nature walks. As can creating art. As can a visit to a friend. As can amusement park rides. You do you.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the moment, know that you’re not alone.
Join us on Peanut. We’re having the conversation.
All the best.
📚 More on menopause:
Introducing, Peanut Menopause
What Happens During Menopause?
How to Deal With Menopause
When Does Menopause Start?
Painful Sex After Menopause? What to Know
Hot Flashes: Causes, Symptoms, and What to Do
What to Know About Menopause Joint Pain
Unusual Menopause Symptoms You Might Not Know
Why Are My Breasts Getting Bigger After Menopause?
Menopause Fatigue: What to Know and What to Do
What to Do About Menopause Bloating
Are You Getting Cramps After Menopause?
Essential Oils for Menopause: What Helps?
What You Need to Know About Menopause Mood Swings
Evening Primrose Oil & Menopause: What’s the Story?
Menopause and Sleep: What’s the Link?
What are the Signs Perimenopause is Ending?
How to Deal With Menopause Headaches
What are the 34 Symptoms of Menopause?
Menopause Weight Loss: What to Know