The Silent Sufferers of Constipation: Chronic Illnesses That Affect Digestion

When you think of constipation, there's a good chance you think of a minor inconvenience or an occasional annoyance. But for those suffering from chronic illnesses that affect digestion, constipation isn't a blip on their radar—it's the norm.

From chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia to celiac disease and diabetes, there is no shortage of conditions that can leave those affected with digestive distress. Unfortunately, these illnesses often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, which can lead to additional health complications down the road.

If you or someone you know suffers from any of these conditions and/or experience constant constipation symptoms, it's essential to understand the underlying causes so that proper treatment can be administered. Here, we’ll discuss some of the most common chronic illnesses that could be affecting your digestion.

Chronic Illnesses That Affect Digestion

Chronic illnesses that affect digestion come in many forms; some have directly visible symptoms such as bloating or changes in bowel movements, while others are silent sufferers. IBS and Crohn’s disease are two of the more well-known chronic illnesses that cause constipation or diarrhea, but other contributing factors can include:

  • Celiac disease: A condition where your immune system attacks your own tissues when you eat gluten.
  • Gastroparesis: A disorder that slows or stops the movement of food from your stomach to your small intestine.
  • Fibromyalgia: A chronic disorder that causes pain and tenderness throughout the body, as well as fatigue and trouble sleeping.
  • Diverticulitis: Occurs when small, bulging pouches (diverticula) develop in your digestive tract.
  • Lyme Disease: An illness caused by borrelia bacteria. Humans usually get this from the bite of a tick carrying the bacteria.
  • Endometriosis: A disease in which a tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside it.
  • Chronic Kidney Disease: A condition in which the kidneys are damaged and cannot filter blood as well as they should

How Parkinson’s Disease Impacts Constipation

If you're living with Parkinson's Disease, you may have noticed that it affects your digestive system. Parkinson's impacts the autonomic nervous system, which controls automatic body functions like digestion.

While constipation is often a symptom of Parkinson's, it can also lead to more serious complications like fecal impaction. Let's take a closer look at how it affects your digestive system:

  • Reduced movement of the intestines caused by a decrease in autonomic nervous system stimulation
  • A decrease in stomach and intestinal contractions due to dopamine deficiency
  • Changes in diet and nutrition resulting in an unbalanced absorption of nutrients
  • Dehydration, due to fluid restriction or medications like diuretics
  • Difficulty swallowing caused by changes in the throat muscles or decreased saliva production

The Link Between Diabetes and Constipation

You may know that constipation is a common symptom of diabetes, but did you know that constipation can actually be an indicator of undetected diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, and it can have a significant effect on healthy digestion. Poor glucose control or imbalances in insulin production can slow down the process by which food passes through the digestive tract, leading to constipation. This happens because some of the cells in the intestines depend on the presence of insulin to help them absorb water and electrolytes. When they don't get enough insulin, they won't absorb as much water and electrolytes as needed, leading to more solid stools.

Other chronic illnesses like thyroid conditions can also contribute to constipation. Thyroid hormones affect how quickly food passes through your gut and how easily it passes out. If your thyroid hormone levels are off-balance, your food will take longer than normal to pass. This gives it more time to add moisture while in your intestines, which can lead to solid stools.

If you suffer from any chronic illnesses that affect your digestive system, it's important to talk with your doctor about any potential constipation relief options available for you.

The Relationship Between Heart Disease and Constipation

One of the silent sufferers of constipation is heart disease. Cardiovascular diseases are a major cause of death and disability in the United States and worldwide, with constipation being a commonly associated symptom.

The relationship between cardiovascular disease and constipation is complex, but it's been suggested that constipation increases inflammation and oxidative stress, both risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease. Research shows that strain at stool causes blood pressure rise, which can trigger cardiovascular events such as congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, acute coronary disease, and aortic dissection. 

Other digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can lead to other diseases such as diabetes and liver failure, which also lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular events like stroke, angina or congestive heart failure.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Impact on Bowel Habits

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an illness with many mysterious symptoms and just as many causes. It's often linked to a weakened immune system, resulting in extreme fatigue and other issues like sleep disturbances, muscle pain, digestive problems, dizziness, headaches, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

When it comes to the impact on bowel habits specifically, evidence shows that those who suffer from CFS can have difficulty passing stools properly. It's thought that this is because physical exhaustion leads to improper nerve signals passing along to the brain, meaning some muscles don’t contract correctly during digestion.

The truth is that it's not just the simple things like diet or lack of exercise that can cause constipation. Chronic illnesses affect bowel habits too — especially CFS. And if your body isn't able to receive these kinds of signals correctly due to a chronic illness or condition such as CFS, constipation may become a part of your daily life for some time.

Managing Hemorrhoids in Professional Healthcare Settings

Hemorrhoids are a common problem that affects many people. It can be particularly difficult to manage if you are dealing with another chronic illness that affects digestion like Crohn's Disease or ulcerative colitis. 

If you are sufferring from hemorrhoids, consult your doctor immediately. They can help you get a diagnosis and create a plan for treatment. It's important to find out what is causing your hemorrhoids so that you can take steps to prevent them from recurring in the future. Your doctor may  recommend medication if lifestyle changes are not enough to ease your symptoms. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat more severe cases of hemorrhoids. 

You can avoid getting hemorrhoids by doing the following:

  • Increasing the amount of fiber in your diet
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Exercising regularly
  • Practicing good hygiene habits, such as wiping from front to back after using the bathroom
  • Avoiding sitting for long periods of time
  • Taking warm baths with Epsom salts or other soothing agents.

Final thoughts

Constipation is by no means a small issue for those with chronic illnesses that affect digestion. While the symptoms and treatments vary from person-to-person, those suffering from constipation have the same goal: to find relief. By working together with your healthcare provider, you can develop a comprehensive plan for managing your symptoms, giving you the freedom to truly live your best life.

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