Reading: The Scoop On Your Poop

Health

The Scoop On Your Poop

Midlife brings medications and lifestyle changes that create constipation. Here's what's safe to get things moving again

By Molly M. Ginty

Door with occupied sign on it
Illustration by Emily Ryan

Getting older can sometimes slow you down — and the same goes for your digestion. “There’s almost a linear relationship between aging and the frequency of constipation,” says William Chey, MD, medical director of the Michigan Bowel Control Program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “Becoming less active, changing your diet, developing health problems, and taking new medications can all contribute to this problem.”

While 15 percent of the general population is afflicted by constipation, that number doubles for women in middle and later life.

“Part of it is tied to menopause,” says Richa Shukla, MD, an assistant professor of gastroenterology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “Hormonal changes can alter our bowel habits, and lower estrogen levels can cause constipation.”

Health problems linked to aging — such as hypothyroidism and the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles — can also decelerate digestion. Ditto many of the remedies we take after age 40, whether they’re over-the-counter ones (such as iron supplements for anemia, calcium pills for osteoporosis, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for arthritis), or prescription meds (such as opioids for pain relief, tricyclic drugs for depression, or beta or calcium channel blockers to address high blood pressure).

The good news is you can make moves to get things moving again. Try foods that are natural laxatives (including prunes, kiwi fruit, and rhubarb). Do Kegels and other exercises to tone your pelvic floor. And make sure to get every sip of water and workout that you need. “At this time of life, it’s more important than ever to drink eight eight-ounce servings of fluid a day; eat a well-balanced, high-fiber diet; and get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week,” says Shukla. “Taking these steps alone is often enough to address constipation.”

Still stopped up? To help move things along try the following common types of fiber, over-the-counter medications, and prescription drugs, ranked in order of their efficacy (and the toll they can potentially take on the body):

 

Constipation Cures

Tried these treatments — to no avail? Talk to your doctor about the possibility of changing any prescription medications you are taking that may be blocking you up. Also, seek medical help to investigate whether an undiagnosed health condition might be causing your constipation.

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