Constipation is a common problem, but most people don’t realize that it can be fatal.
Express spoke with Dr. Deborah Lee, of Dr. Fox’s online pharmacy, to find out the 10 reasons constipation can be fatal.
“Several large medical studies have now observed a link between constipation – defined as fewer than three emptyings per week – and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes,” Lee said.
The findings speak for themselves, with plenty of studies pointing to a possible link between constipation and a short or reduced quality of life.
In 2019, a large observational study included 3,359,653 US veterans, of whom 237,855 (7.1%) were diagnosed with constipation.
“Researchers calculated that people with constipation had a 12% higher mortality from all causes than those who weren’t constipated. The constipated group had an 11% increased risk of coronary heart disease, and a 19% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease,” Lee explained. ischemic stroke. Increased mortality was also associated with increased use of laxatives.”
Previous studies looking at the possible link between constipation and mortality have shown conflicting results, but the above study involved more than 3.5 million participants and is believed to be the largest study to date.
Ten reasons why constipation is fatal:
Abnormalities of the gut microbiome
There is increasing evidence of an interaction between the gut microbiota and chronic medical conditions such as metabolic syndrome and coronary heart disease.
“Constipation may promote atherosclerosis, due to the chronic inflammation that arises as a result of altered gut metabolism and the presence of bacterial toxins,” Lee said.
High levels of serotonin
An increase in serotonin production has been observed in people who are constipated and in people who use certain laxatives.
“Serotonin is a vasoconstrictor and can stimulate the production of blood clots. It is thought to play a role in the process of atherosclerosis – the placement of fatty plaques in artery walls,” Lee said.
Constipation may affect the autonomic nervous system (ANS)
It is the autonomic nervous pathway that we rely on, for example, to stimulate the bowel movement needed to ensure the passage of digestive secrets through the digestive system.
“ANS dysfunction has been observed in patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes and depression, and has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” Lee said.
Dehydration and breath holding
Dehydration may occur due to excessive use of laxatives.
In addition, heart patients are often asked to limit fluid intake, and this can cause a slight drop in blood pressure.
“When they strain to try to pass hard stools, this action combined with the effects of dehydration can lead to collapse – the so-called defecation syncope – meaning ‘fainting’ in the toilet,” she explained to me.
straining to pass stool
When you strain to pass stool, this increases pressure inside the skull and increases the likelihood of a blood vessel within the brain rupturing, causing a stroke.
Constipation causes stress
She told me that not being able to pass a stool causes increased distress and can raise blood pressure.
The physician noted that fatal cardiac events have been reported in the elderly associated with faecal impaction.
Some heart medications can cause constipation
Medicines used to treat high blood pressure, such as calcium channel blockers, also relax smooth muscles and impair bowel function.
Heart failure reduces bowel function
Patients with right-sided heart failure may present with an enlarged, distended intestine with reduced bowel movements.
“When this happens, the intestine itself is relatively weak with blood,” Lee added.
Lack of exercise
She told me that lack of exercise is known to be associated with constipation.
She explained: “A patient with a sudden heart attack or stroke will be confined to bed, which is not beneficial for bowel function. Blood pressure tends to rise immediately after opening the bowel, and this can exacerbate any pre-existing heart condition, leading to heart failure or Arrhythmia”.
How to manage constipation
Constipation must be taken seriously, as establishing a regular bowel habit is essential for optimal health.
And she said to me, “Why don’t you think about your gut habit now, and see what you can do to improve it – and stay healthy?”
In the general population, good fluid intake, a healthy diet rich in fiber, and regular physical exercise are vital to the return of a healthy gut.
Adults are advised to drink 1.5-2 liters of water, along with 20-35 grams of fiber per day, for optimal bowel function.
Make sure you get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
Eating a healthy diet is also vital, so she advises me the following:
• Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that contain high levels of antioxidants, and often high amounts of fibre.
• Eat plenty of whole grains (found in unrefined breakfast cereals, brown bread, brown rice and brown pasta. Eat plenty of legumes such as lentils, beans and chickpeas).
• Increase your intake of foods that are excellent for good bowel function, such as figs, prunes, kiwi fruits, berries, apples, pears (leave the peel), nuts and seeds.
• Avoid processed foods, which are often high in fat, sugar and salt.
• Try cooking from scratch using the freshest ingredients.
• Do not drink soft and sweetened drinks.
• Try probiotics (these foods contain live bacteria and have been found to be beneficial for people with altered bowel function, for example, those with irritable bowel syndrome).
• Eat foods full of probiotics such as sauerkraut and live yogurt.