Constipation is defined as difficulty having a bowel movement and/or having hardened stools. The Bristol stool chart can be used as a way of deciding if you may be need to speak to your doctor about constipation.
Sometimes constipation is temporary and can be from a change in your diet or lifestyle. For example, if you go a few days without drinking as much water as usual or do not eat as many fruits and vegetables as you are used to. Travel and stress can also lead to temporary constipation.
Other times, constipation is considered long-standing or chronic, meaning the individual struggles with constipation frequently or even all the time. Many disabilities and/or secondary conditions can cause long-standing constipation.
On this page, we share information we think women with mobility impairments should know. If you think you struggle with constipation, be sure to speak with your doctor about the best way for you to manage it.
Some risk factors for constipation include:
- Female sex – unfortunately, constipation is another health issue where simply being a woman puts you at risk
- Low fiber diet – fiber is found in fruits and vegetables and whole grains
- Older age
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Taking certain medications - ask your doctor if any of your medications may have constipation as a side effect
- Changes in hormones – these can be monthly with menstruation or during big hormonal changes such as pregnancy and menopause
- Changes in your routine
Immobility and Constipation
Women with mobility impairments are at a high risk for constipation since even simple movement from walking around and even just standing help the bowels move regularly. Women with neurologic illness, such as spinal cord injury (SCI), multiple sclerosis (MS), and Parkinson’s disease are at an even greater risk.
Other Problems Associated with Chronic Constipation
Because chronic constipation can be associated with the problems listed, it is important all your doctors are aware you struggle with constipation as symptoms can overlap.
- Overactive Bladder Symptoms
- Urinary Tract Infections
- Pelvic Pain
- Sexual Dysfunction
Managing Constipation While Improving Your Health
The following list of lifestyle changes can help you manage constipation and improve your overall health at the same time!
- Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables
- Eating whole grains
- Drinking plenty of water
- Moving around as much as possible – whether this is a walk around a room or someone helping you stretch and move your legs
- Read this consumer-oriented handout provided by one of our medical advisors, Dr. Sophie Fletcher.
Words You May Hear at Your Doctor's Office
Your doctor may treat your constipation with one or more of the following. Always talk to your doctor before taking any medications even though many are now sold over the counter.
Some women with disabilities may be prescribed a bowel routine, which consists of diet, timing, medications, and other techniques. The goal of this routine or program is to have consistent, scheduled, normal, healthy, bowel movements. See Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center bowel function factsheet for more information on exactly what a bowel routine or program is.
- Fiber supplement – common names are Metamucil ® or Benefiber ®
- Stool softeners – soften your stool to make it easier to pass; most common is Dulcolax ®
- Osmotic agents – draw water into your stool to make them easier to pass; common names are Miralax ® and Milk of Magnesia
- Stimulants – trigger your bowel to move and release stool