Crohn’s disease can cause a slew of stomach symptoms including constipation. While some symptoms can be treated at home, more severe constipation cases may require medical attention.
Diarrhea isn’t the only tummy trouble triggered by Crohn’s disease — a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Constipation is also a common symptom of this chronic condition. Here are the fecal facts.
Yup! Crohn’s can make passing poop tough AF for lots of different reasons. This includes:
- Low fiber diets. Lots of peeps with Crohn’s opt for a low fiber diet to reduce the risk of a flare-up. The downside is that fiber helps keep your poop schedule regular and makes dropping logs easier.
- Not enough fluids. Crohn’s can increase the risk of dehydration which can up your chances of constipation.
- Ignoring natural poop urges. When you gotta go, you gotta go. Easy to say if you don’t need to go all the time though, ain’t it? Some peeps with Crohn’s get so used to having to fight the urge to poop they hold back too much. After a while, the buildup becomes a blockage.
- Medications. Drug-based treatments are a Crohn’s disease management mainstay. Common options include antidiarrheals, pain relievers, antidepressants, and anti-inflammatories. Some of them can cause constipation as a side effect.
- Strictures. Crohn’s inflammation and ulceration can scar the gastrointestinal tract. Over time, the scar tissue can build up and cause strictures which make sections of the intestine narrow.
Ready to get your bowels back on track? Here are seven ways to treat Crohn’s disease constipation.
1. Increase your dietary fiber intake
The easiest constipation fix is to up the high fiber foods in your diet. This isn’t always simple with Crohn’s though, since many high fiber foods can cause a symptom flare-up.
Your health care provider might suggest you increase your fiber intake in small amounts. You should also avoid high fiber foods that contain other triggering ingredients.
2. Stay hydrated
Hydration is important for everyone, but especially important for Crohn’s disease. Fluid loss is a common complication of IBD-associated diarrhea. If Crohn’s diarrhea episode has tapped out your body’s fluid the following poops might be dry. This can make you constipated.
Drinking water at regular intervals throughout the day can be a great constipation quick-fix. And as a big bonus, staying hydrated is great for your overall health.
Crohn’s can make physical activity and exercise a difficult prospect for a number of reasons. Who wants to take a HIIT class when the urge to poo is omnipresent?
However, research shows that low levels of physical activity are a constipation hazard. And on the flip side, other research — such as this banger of a meta-analysis — shows that exercise can help you go. You can see where we’re going with this.
If Crohn’s has you living a somewhat sedentary lifestyle that might be what’s making your poops slow. Add a little more movement to your day. It might help get things, well, moving again.
4. Bowel training
Bowel training is basically Kegels for your keister. The tl;dr: They’re behavioral programs that help you get your bowels back under control. For obvious reasons, it’s super helpful for peeps living with Crohn’s and other IBD’s.
Bowel training or bowel retraining strengthens the pelvic floor using a number of exercises. For Crohn’s, it’s usually prescribed to help prevent leakages. But(t), docs may also recommend them to ease chronic constipation.
Speak with your doc about bowel training if you’re not already doing so as part of your Crohn’s management. They can give you some dope doody pointers, like sitting on the toilet at specified times throughout the day.
5. Biofeedback therapy
In cases of chronic Crohn’s constipation, your doc might suggest biofeedback therapy. Especially if the specific cause relates to pelvic floor problems.
Studies show that biofeedback therapy can help chronically constipated peeps poop normally again.
A medical professional (normally a physio) will help you simulate a bowel movement. There’ll be some breathing exercises and muscle training thrown in too. Don’t worry, it’s not as weird IRL as it sounds written down.
6. Adjust your meds
First things first … Always talk with your health care provider before tweaking your medications.
Now that’s out of the way, some medications can cause constipation. For example, antidiarrheals like loperamide (Imodium A-D) are a common Crohn’s management medication. Every so often they can overcorrect, causing no pooping at all instead of the intended regular bowel movements.
If you’ve recently had a change in your Crohn’s medication and it’s prompted a spell of recurrent constipation, consult with your doc. A dosage adjustment could fix the issue.
Laxatives come in all different shapes, strengths, and sizes. Some are Crohn’s friendly and some are not. Like, really not. That said, don’t jump on the laxative train without consulting your doc.
Many laxatives can have adverse effects even on healthy digestive systems. Crohn’s makes your GI tract much more sensitive. What might cause light cramping in a non-Crohn’s gut could leave someone with Crohn’s in pain. That doesn’t mean Crohn’s disease makes laxatives a no-go, it just means you need to be especially careful.
Here’s a brief rundown of some available laxatives and how they work.
Bulk-forming agents are the easiest on your guts. They soak up water and bulk your stool out, which makes your body go “Oh no, that’s a really bulky stool” and then squeeze it out.
Avoid bulk-forming agents if you have a bowel obstruction of a stricture. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water, or you could create a big dry bulky blockage instead of an empty constipation-free bowel.
Some examples include:
Osmotic laxatives work by keeping the fluid in your stool. This keeps them moist, slippery, and easier to pass.
Some popular options are:
- Milk of magnesia
Again, be super careful. Too much of an osmotic thing again can cause cramping, diarrhea, and dehydration even if you don’t have Crohn’s disease. Only as much as you need to clear your blockage.
Stool softeners work in a similar fashion to osmotic agents. They increase the fluid content of your poops so they’re not so challenging to squeeze out.
Popular brands include:
It’s worth noting that stool softeners can take a few days to work. So, don’t up your laxative intake if you don’t see immediate results.
They do exactly what the name suggests — stimulate your bowel and make you poop. They’ll get working in a few hours, so don’t make any plans once you’ve taken them.
Two types include:
- Bisacodyl (Dulcolax)
PSA: Don’t touch these unless your constipation is 10/10 and you’re not suffering from any pain in your abdomen.
Crohn’s disease can properly mess with your poops. While constipation can and does happen in those living with Crohn’s, some of the more common symptoms of Crohn’s include:
- Diarrhea. This is the main one. According to a 2018 study, diarrhea is seen in almost 80 percent of IBD cases. You may also feel like you need to go all the time. Ugh.
- Frequent pooping. Crohn’s disease doesn’t just make most poops runnier. Studies show that the disease can increase bowel movement frequency to the point that it affects your quality of life.
- Fart attack. You might have a hard time holding in farts. Additionally, lots of folks experience painful poop, stomach cramps, and bloating.
Occasional Crohn’s constipation isn’t usually a big deal. But you should def hit up a health care provider if you have:
- a fever
- bloody stool
- the inability to pass gas
- uncontrollable flatulence
- severe bloating that lasts several days
- abdominal pain before, during, or after pooping
- constipation won’t go away despite your best efforts
You should also let them know if you notice bowel obstruction symptoms like:
- abdominal pain
- distention (a swollen, enlarged, or protruding stomach)
- constipation-to-obstipation (the inability to pass dry, hard poop)
Crohn’s disease — or the methods used to treat it — can make you constipated. However, other bowel concerns like diarrhea are more common.
You might be able to treat your constipation at home with simple remedies and over-the-counter meds. However, more serious cases might need medical intervention.
Call your doctor if your constipation comes on suddenly, intensely, and is accompanied by other abnormal symptoms.