It's fairly common for women to notice more frequent issues with constipation when going through menopause. Constipation is typically defined as being unable to complete bowel movements at least three times a week. It's considered chronic if it's a problem you are still having after 3-4 months. If this is something you're dealing with, here's a closer look at the connection between menopause and constipation – and what you can do about it.
What's the Connection between Menopause and Constipation?
Menopause refers to the time that starts after it's been at least a year since menstrual cycles have ended. During this time, levels of the estrogen, progesterone, and other female hormones drop. This shift in hormone levels sometimes contributes to issues with constipation post-menopause. Some women also experience this problem during the natural transition time before menopause (perimenopause) officially starts as well.
The drop in levels of the main female hormone, estrogen, also boosts levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The digestive process is sometimes affected by this hormonal adjustment. As a result, you may have trouble passing stool since it can become dryer when spending more time in the digestive tract. Certain medications being taken for other reasons can also contribute to menopause-related constipation problems. Some of these include:
- Blood pressure medications
- Iron supplements
What Treatments Can Help for Menopause Constipation?
The good news is there are treatment and symptom management options available. Specifically, there are three main approaches to treatment for problems related to menopause and constipation.
1. Changing Your Diet
Eating more fiber-rich foods coupled with an uptake in your consumption of water can be an effective way to minimize minor issues with constipation experienced before, during, or after menopause. Healthy foods with a high fiber content include:
- Peas, beans, broccoli, and lentils
- Blackberries, pears, apples, and avocados
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
2. Using Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medications
There are many different medications that can help with menopause-related constipation, but check with your doctor first to get recommendations more specific to your needs. Your doctor can also give you some guidance on when it's best to take medications of this nature. In addition to bulk-forming and osmotic (colon cleansing) laxatives, common medications used to manage constipation include:
- Stool softeners
- Fiber supplements
- Glycerin suppositories and other lubricants
- Lactulose and other prescription drugs
3. Getting More Active
If you prefer to reduce your reliance on medication to manage constipation, consider getting more exercise. According to WebMD and other sources, there's evidence suggesting regular physical activity can help reduce constipation issues by naturally speeding up the digestion process. Aim for about half an hour of daily aerobic exercise. As for what types of exercise are appropriate for this purpose, options include:
- Daily walking
- Running or jogging
- Swimming and other water-based exercises or activities
- Cycling or rowing
- Yoga and similar controlled-movement exercises
It's just as important to report any new or changing symptoms you may be experiencing with regards to your bowel habits around the time you are going through menopause to your doctor. With the right approach to managing symptoms, however, problems with menopause and constipation can often be handled in a way that does not significantly affect your quality of life. Incidentally, some women notice fewer issues with constipation when having hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help with other menopause-related problems.