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Can Stress Cause Constipation?

Understanding The Causes Of Constipation

Dr. Aniruddh Setya Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Aniruddh Setya on August 6, 2021

We all get stressed sometimes, whether it be due to work, school, or other obligations and responsibilities. Usually, stress is a temporary issue that resolves when the perceived stressor goes away, but sometimes stress can cause other problems while it hangs around.

One of these problems is constipation, and the fact that stress can cause this to happen might come as a surprise to you as a parent. Generally, helping your child cope with stress and learn healthy methods of getting through it will also treat the associated constipation, but you can also always opt for over-the-counter constipation medications, too, if needed.

The Link Between Stress and Bowel Dysfunction

The link between stress and bowel dysfunction is a bit of a complicated one, so allow us to explain. We now know that our brain and gut talk to each other. Scientists call this the gut-brain axis. Some scientists also call the gut as second brain ( the enteric nervous system), the main role of which is to control all functions from swallowing to elimination. It is natural that due to the conversation between these two brains, the function of one affects the other.

Essentially, psychological stress can result in a variety of gastrointestinal issues, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and alteration in bowel habits, which means constipation is a mighty contender.

These kinds of physiological responses to stress are regulated and put into action by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, meaning that stress impacts your body’s means of producing and controlling bodily functions and hormones.

Stress can also create inflammation in various parts of the body, and this inflammation, too, can cause constipation due to increased gut permeability. More research is needed to determine exactly how and why stress leads to gut inflammation, but the link seems to be there, and anyone suffering from constipation as a result of stress can surely attest to it.

The Many Ways That Stress Causes Constipation

Let’s dive a little deeper into the ways that stress can cause constipation. Constipation does not have to be caused by an inflamed gut- in fact, there are plenty of reasons why constipation might be the result of stress.

There are several ways that stress might cause constipation. These include:

  • When you are in a stressful situation, the adrenal glands in your body release epinephrine, which is a hormone that largely regulates the fight-or-flight response.This hormone results in your body diverting the flow of blood from the intestines and towards vital organs like your heart, brain, and lungs. Because blood flow has been rerouted away from your intestines, intestinal movement can slow down and thus cause constipation.
  • A hormone known as corticotropin-releasing-factor, or CRF, acts directly on your intestines and is also released by your body in response to stress. This hormone, too, can slow down your intestines and may cause inflammation, and this slowing-down business may be the culprit for your kid’s tummy troubles.
  • As mentioned above, stress can also cause intestinal permeability, which basically just means your intestines have become more permeable and certain inflammatory compounds may be able to more easily enter. This can cause feelings of fullness in your abdominal area, which is commonly associated with constipation.
  • Stress also has the ability to have a negative impact on the healthy bacteria in your gut, and it may even reduce the number of healthy bacteria you have, leaving behind a slow-moving and sluggish digestive system.

Research has shown that young people and children who have experienced stressful life events such as severe illness, bad grades, or the loss of a caregiver’s job, are significantly more likely to report issues of constipation, and a study of school-aged children showed a clear link between stressful life events and constipation.

So, if your little one has been going through a lot, their constipation is almost certainly just part of their body dealing with it all.

Causes of Constipation That Are Not Stress-Related

Of course, there are plenty of other reasons why constipation might occur, and just because stress and constipation happen at the same time does not mean they are always going to be related.

Non-stress-related causes of constipation include:

  • Blockages in the colon or rectum
  • Problems with the nerves located near the colon and rectum
  • A diet that does not contain enough fiber
  • Insufficient physical activity
  • Dehydration

It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether constipation is being caused by stress or something else, but any concerns or questions that you can’t find the answer to can be put to rest by your pediatrician. In general, any constipation being caused by stress will resolve when the stress also resolves.

Common methods of coping with stress include relaxation and mindfulness practices like meditation, taking time to do things you enjoy, and making sure to get some exercise each day. For your child, these things might come in the form of playdates with friends, time spent playing outside, or having family time doing something fun.

For constipation that is causing your child discomfort, medicine might be in order.

Genexa’s Kids’ Senna Laxative is a constipation medicine perfect for kids between the ages of 2 and 12, and it can bring relief in just 6-12 hours. After discussing with your doctor, giving your child this medicine can help them go to the bathroom ! It stimulates the bowels and helps them give the feeling the urge to empty their bowels. There are other kinds of laxatives as well which your physician maybe able to advice you on.

Genexa is the first clean medicine brand and they are revolutionizing the world of medicine. They were founded by two dads, meaning they know the stress of trying to find medicines that don’t come with a host of artificial inactive ingredients, and this is why they offer medicine with the active ingredients you need, and without those inactive, artificial ingredients you don’t need.

Taking certain measures can help prevent constipation in the future. General preventative methods for constipation are as follows:

  • Making sure their diet is full of yummy high-fiber foods
  • Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, throughout the day
  • Staying active and getting regular exercise
  • Working to manage and cope with stress in healthy ways

Being a parent comes with plenty of scary situations, and seeing your child under stress can certainly raise some concerns.

If your child is visibly upset often, does not adapt very well to stress, or seems to have trouble finding effective ways of coping, it may be a good idea to get in touch with your pediatrician. Your doctor will be able to advise you and guide you both in the right direction so that your child knows what feelings to expect in future stressful situations, and how to manage them.

The Bottom Line

Though it may not be the first conclusion you draw, your child’s constipation very well may be linked to any stress they are experiencing. More research needs to be done on the link between stress and constipation, but essentially, your body’s response to stress releases certain hormones that have been connected to intestinal and digestive health.

When you are stressed, your blood flow gets redirected to your vital organs and away from your intestines. This leaves your intestines with less blood than before, and as a result, they will slow down… meaning your bowel movements will slow down, too.

Treating stress-related constipation can be as easy as learning to manage and cope with stress, but if your symptoms won’t quit, medicines like Genexa’s Kids’ Laxative or other stool softeners can help get you back on track.

It is important to keep in mind that even if stress and constipation do occur at the same time, they are not always connected, so if you have questions you should consult your pediatrician. Good luck!



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