Abdominal pain is a common symptom of constipation, which is why they often occur together. There are many reasons why people experience abdominal pain and constipation, ranging from certain lifestyle factors to serious medical conditions.
Constipation is a generalized condition that can affect people of any age. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), about 16 out of 100 adults in the United States experience symptoms of constipation. In this article, we list the symptoms of constipation and abdominal pain and explore some potential causes.
Symptoms of constipation
Constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements per week.
Other symptoms of constipation include:
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty or pain when passing stools
- Hard, dry, or lumpy stools
- The feeling that the intestine is not empty after having a bowel movement
Symptoms of abdominal pain
Abdominal pain can vary in type, severity, and duration. When it accompanies constipation, abdominal pain can cause the following:
- Dull pain in the stomach
- Cramping pains
- Bloating or excess gas
- Loss of appetite
There are many causes of abdominal pain and constipation. We discuss some of these below:
Eating a low-fiber diet increases your risk of constipation and abdominal pain. Dietary fiber is essential for healthy bowel movements because it helps bulk up and soften the stool, allowing it to pass more easily through the intestines. A meta-analysis found that dietary fiber intake increased the frequency of bowel movements in people with constipation. People should aim to eat between 25 and 31 grams (g) of fiber each day. However, people who want to add more fiber to their diet should do so gradually.
Making sudden or extreme changes in eating habits can also cause changes in bowel movements. Hydration is also essential to relieve constipation, as water softens the stool and helps it move through the intestine.
Stress and anxiety
There is a link between the nervous system and the digestive system, which scientists refer to as the gut-brain axis. Research suggests that stress and anxiety can affect bacteria in the gut, leading to gut problems.
Depression and other mood disorders, as well as lifestyle factors that contribute to stress, can also trigger abdominal pain and constipation in some people.
Medications and supplements
Some medications and dietary supplements can make you worse or cause constipation. The following types of medications can contribute to constipation:
- Antacids containing aluminum and calcium
- Calcium channel blockers
- Narcotic pain relievers
- Some antidepressants
- Mineral supplements that can cause constipation include iron and calcium.
Lack of physical activity
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to abdominal pain and constipation. Regular physical activity reduces the amount of time it takes for food to move through the intestine. Exercise also increases the heart rate and the contraction of muscles throughout the body, including the intestines. When the intestinal muscles contract, they help push stool.
A study in Hong Kong adolescents suggests that there is a dose-response relationship between physical activity and constipation, with symptoms improving as a person exercises more.
Weakened pelvic muscles
The pelvic floor muscles support the intestine, as well as the bladder and uterus. Weakened pelvic muscles can make it difficult for a person to have a bowel movement. They may also experience urinary problems. Factors that can weaken the pelvic muscles include:
- Childbirth and pregnancy
- Straining due to long-term constipation