A lot of things slow down in menopause. And unfortunately, our bowels are included. Many women experience a change in their bowels when they hit menopause. Regrettably, menopause and constipation go hand in hand as estrogen levels decline. If menopause has put the brakes on easygoing, predictable bowel movements, its time to implements some strategies to keep you comfortable.
Let’s Talk Poop For A Minute
Bowel habits differ from person to person. What is normal for one person may not be normal for the net. But in general, most people should not have difficulty having a bowel movement. Constipation is when you having difficulty voiding your bowels. It is typically diagnosed by having three or fewer bowel movements per week. Sometimes, constipation may be acute in that it happens here and there. It can become chronic if it lasts for three months or longer.
Symptoms of constipation include:
Straining to have a bowel movement
Having 3 or fewer bowel movements in a week
Having hard, lumpy, small stools
Feeling like you have something blocking your rectum or like you cannot fully empty your bowels
Finding that you need to press on your abdomen to help push stool out
An overall feeling of abdominal fullness and bloating
The Relationship Between Menopause and Constipation
Female sex hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, play a role in your digestive system. When you experience a drop in estrogen and progesterone levels in perimenopause and menopause, it can change your bowel habits. When hormone levels decline, your intestinal peristalsis can slow down. Your body absorbs water from digested material when it does not move through your colon at a normal pace. Therefore, your stools can get hard and become more difficult to move throughout the colon.
Women can also experience a weakening in their pelvic floor muscles as they age, especially if they have gone through childbirth. Many women begin to notice muscle-weakening around menopause which can also be attributed to declining estrogen levels. However, lack of use and sedentary lifestyles can also create pelvic floor weakness and dysfunction that is noticeable with constipation.
Menopause and Constipation Remedies
Menopause bloating and constipation can be relieved and even treated with some simple at-home remedies and lifestyle adjustments. Sometimes, severe constipation may need medication if there is another cause such as irritable bowel syndrome. The following strategies aim to relieve menopause bloating and constipation.
Lifestyle changes - Constipation can be caused by many different things, and sometimes our habits can be the cause.
Reduce stress - Cortisol (the stress hormone) can slow bowel function. Try to find ways to reduce stress to reserve cortisol for when you really need it.
Increase exercise - Doing something physically active can help move things along and keep your bowels regular. Focus on getting daily exercise that raises your heart rate. Also, try to target your pelvic floor muscles to keep them strong and healthy (...Kegels, anyone?)
Small movements matter - Find yourself sitting for hours at a stretch? Get up and move around as much as possible. Our work and home lives are more sedentary than our ancestors so our bodies are not used to sitting around so much. If you have a job where you sit at a desk, make sure to take walking water breaks, or even consider a standing desk. Similarly, try taking an evening walk after dinner before settling down in front of your favorite Netflix show.
Dietary changes - Certain foods are more likely to slow things down in your gut. For example, dairy products, processed grains, gluten, red meat, and fried foods can decrease the speed of digestion. Many people also claim alcohol causes constipation. Try to incorporate foods that are high in fiber including:
Legumes (chickpeas, beans, etc.)
Vegetables such as peas, lentils, and broccoli
Whole wheat grains
Fruits including berries, prunes, apples, grapes, kiwi, and pears
Olive oil and flaxseed oil
Foods that contain probiotics, or good bacteria for your gut like yogurt and sauerkraut
Hydrate - Drinking plenty of water is one of the best ways to relieve constipation. Your digestive tract needs water to keep digested food moist so that it can move throughout your system. Try to drink plain water instead of flavored beverages such as coffee, alcohol, and sodas.
Magnesium - This vital mineral has numerous health benefits. Many people take a daily magnesium supplement to relieve constipation.
Constipation may be caused by more than our hormones and lifestyle. Indeed, it can be the result of medications we are taking or other health conditions we are managing. If you are struggling with frequent episodes of menopause constipation and dietary and lifestyle modifications have not helped, you should consult your doctor to see what other options are available. There are medications that are available with a prescription and over-the-counter that can relieve constipation. Your doctor may also recommend certain tests to see if there are other causes contributing to your constipation.
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Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.
Meet The Author
Perry Babe Julia ( RN, BSN, BA) is a registered nurse based in Colorado. Julia's nursing background in women’s health has ranged from neonatal and postpartum care to labor and delivery, to outpatient gynecological medicine for both adolescent and adult populations.
Much of her education and clinical experience are related to educating women on women’s health topics ranging from lifestyle improvements, disease management, and general health education.
Find Julia's Perry community profile right here.