Laxatives: Friend Or Foe During Period Constipation?

can laxatives help period constipation

Constipation during menstruation is a common issue for many women. It is usually caused by hormonal changes, specifically fluctuations in the body's levels of progesterone and oestrogen. While it is generally nothing to worry about, it can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. If you are experiencing period constipation, there are several ways to relieve your symptoms, including increasing your fibre intake, staying hydrated, and exercising. If these lifestyle changes do not help, over-the-counter laxatives can be a safe and effective solution. However, it is important to use laxatives sparingly and always follow the instructions on the packaging to avoid side effects and misuse.

Characteristics Values
What causes constipation during periods Fluctuations in the hormones progesterone and oestrogen. Underlying conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and endometriosis can also be contributing factors.
How to treat constipation during periods Altering your diet to include more fibre-rich foods, drinking plenty of fluids, exercising, and taking over-the-counter laxatives.
Types of laxatives Bulk-forming laxatives, osmotic laxatives, stool softener laxatives, lubricant laxatives, and stimulant laxatives.
How do laxatives work By softening stools, increasing the bulk of stools with additional fibre, or stimulating the muscles in the digestive tract.
Are laxatives safe Laxatives are generally safe and available over the counter, but they can cause side effects such as bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and dehydration. They should be used sparingly and with caution, especially if you are pregnant, giving them to a child, or taking prescription medication.


Laxatives are a safe treatment for period constipation

Constipation during menstruation is a common issue for many women. It is usually caused by hormonal changes, specifically fluctuations in the body's levels of progesterone and oestrogen. Before menstruation, progesterone builds up in the body, acting as a muscle relaxant and slowing down the digestive system. Oestrogen also affects how the gastrointestinal system works.

There are different types of laxatives, including bulk-forming laxatives, osmotics, stool softeners, lubricants, and stimulants. Bulk-forming laxatives, also known as fibre supplements, are generally considered the gentlest type and are often recommended as the first option. They increase the bulk of the stool by adding soluble fibre, which draws water from the body into the stool, making it bigger and softer. Osmotic laxatives also increase the amount of water in the bowels, softening the stool. Lubricant laxatives coat the colon with a slick layer of mineral oil, preventing water absorption and making it easier for stool to pass. Stool softeners, or emollient laxatives, help the stool absorb more water and fat, softening it. Stimulant laxatives are recommended if other types of laxatives haven't worked. They stimulate the muscles in the colon, forcing it to move the stool along.

It is important to take laxatives as directed to prevent side effects such as bloating, gas, or stomach cramps. Laxatives can cause dehydration, so it is crucial to drink plenty of fluids while taking them. They should also be used sparingly and only when necessary, as overuse can lead to complications such as chronic constipation, intestinal blockage, and electrolyte imbalance.

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Natural ways to relieve constipation

Constipation is a common issue, affecting around 20% of people in the United States, resulting in 8 million doctor visits per year. It can be uncomfortable and have a negative impact on quality of life. The good news is that there are many natural ways to help relieve constipation. Here are some tips to get things moving again:

Stay hydrated

Drinking enough water is important for preventing constipation. Dehydration can cause constipation, so it's crucial to stay hydrated throughout the day. Aim for at least 64 ounces of water per day, unless you have a health condition that requires you to limit your fluid intake. In addition to plain water, you can also try carbonated water, which some studies have found to be more effective than still water at relieving constipation. Just avoid sugary carbonated drinks, as these can have harmful health effects and may worsen constipation.

Eat more fibre, especially soluble, non-fermentable fibre

Increasing your fibre intake is often recommended by doctors to treat constipation. Fibre adds bulk and improves the consistency of bowel movements, making them easier to pass. It also helps move things along more quickly through the digestive system. Aim for a mix of soluble and insoluble fibres in your diet. Good sources of insoluble fibre include wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. For soluble fibre, try oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, fruits, and vegetables. The recommended daily fibre intake is 25 grams for females and 38 grams for males.

Exercise regularly

Physical activity is important for preventing constipation. It stimulates the gut and helps get things moving. Walking in particular is a great way to stimulate your gut and improve bowel movements. Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, which doesn't have to be strenuous—a gentle walk can be very effective.

Try a natural laxative

If you're looking for a natural laxative, senna is a popular and safe option. It's an herbal laxative that contains plant compounds called glycosides, which stimulate the nerves in the gut and speed up bowel movements. It's available over the counter and is generally considered safe for adults for short periods. However, it's best to consult a doctor if your symptoms persist.

Eat probiotic foods or take a supplement

Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that occur naturally in the gut. They can help improve the balance of gut bacteria and may prevent chronic constipation. Try increasing your intake of probiotic foods, such as yoghurt, kimchi, pickled vegetables, or miso. You can also take a probiotic supplement, which may start to provide relief after 4 weeks.

Try a low FODMAP diet

If you suspect that your constipation is related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a low FODMAP diet may help. This is an elimination diet that involves limiting certain foods for a period of time and then slowly reintroducing them to identify triggers. However, for constipation-predominant IBS, a low FODMAP diet alone may not be enough, and it's important to also focus on getting enough water and fibre.

Try magnesium citrate

Magnesium citrate is a popular over-the-counter home remedy for constipation. It's a type of osmotic laxative that works by drawing water into the intestines, softening the stool, and making it easier to pass.

Try avoiding dairy

If you have an intolerance to dairy, it could be contributing to your constipation. Dairy intolerance can affect the gut's movements, leading to constipation. If you suspect a dairy intolerance, consult your doctor, who may recommend temporarily removing dairy from your diet while increasing other calcium-rich foods.

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When to see a doctor

Constipation is a common issue, and it's usually nothing to worry about. However, there are certain instances when it's time to see a doctor.

First of all, if this is your first time experiencing constipation, it's a good idea to consult a healthcare provider, especially if you're a child. They can offer medical guidance and help you understand what's normal for your body.

If you're experiencing constipation around your period, it's considered normal as long as you don't have any other concerning symptoms. However, if constipation is interfering with your daily life or persists for more than three days, it's a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider to rule out any underlying issues.

There are some general symptoms that indicate when constipation has become more serious and requires medical attention. These include:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Not having a bowel movement for more than a week
  • Vomiting, especially if it resembles coffee grounds
  • Blood in your stool
  • Persistent and severe digestive issues
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fever, fatigue, lower back pain
  • Recurrent vomiting
  • Racing or rapid heart rate
  • Extended, bloated abdomen that is rigid to the touch

If you experience any of these symptoms along with constipation, don't hesitate to seek medical help.

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How to prevent period constipation

Constipation during your period can be uncomfortable, but it's fairly normal. Fluctuating hormone levels, particularly progesterone and oestrogen, are thought to be the main cause of period constipation. Progesterone, which builds up before menstruation, acts as a muscle relaxant, causing your bowel to relax so much that passing stools becomes difficult. Oestrogen, meanwhile, affects how your gastrointestinal system works because its receptors are located in the small intestines and stomach.

If you're experiencing period constipation, there are several ways to prevent it:

  • Increase your fibre intake: Fibre helps to increase the size of your stool, which can help it move easily through your digestive system. Fibre-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. However, increase your fibre intake gradually to avoid abdominal cramping, bloating, or gas.
  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration is one of the leading causes of constipation, so make sure to drink plenty of fluids, especially during your period. Water is a good choice, but you can also try warm water with lemon or carbonated beverages like sparkling water. Soups and juicy fruits like oranges and satsumas are also great sources of hydration.
  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity gets your intestines and their contents moving. Even a gentle 20-minute walk can help relieve constipation.
  • Avoid holding your bowel movements: Go to the toilet when you feel the urge. Holding your bowel movements will only make constipation worse.
  • Try hormonal birth control: Some birth control methods can completely stop your periods, but be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes.
  • Take probiotics: Foods rich in probiotics, such as Greek yoghurt, can help ease digestive issues related to your period. Probiotic supplements are also available over the counter.
  • Avoid dietary triggers: Reduce your consumption of processed foods, caffeine, and foods high in fat, sugar, and starch. Instead, opt for fresh, home-cooked meals and whole grains.

If these lifestyle changes don't help relieve your period constipation, you may want to try over-the-counter laxatives. However, it's important to use laxatives sparingly and only when necessary, as they can have side effects and may mask underlying conditions. Always read the instructions and talk to your healthcare provider before taking laxatives, especially if you're pregnant or taking other medications.


Other digestive issues to watch for

It's common to experience digestive issues other than constipation during your period. You might have diarrhea, bloating, gas, or all three. These issues are caused by prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that help your uterus contract and shed its lining, resulting in your period. However, they can also wreak havoc on your digestive system.

To help relieve these digestive problems, stay hydrated while limiting sweet or caffeinated drinks, cut back on foods high in sodium and those that cause gas, and try an over-the-counter remedy for persistent diarrhea or gas, such as loperamide (Imodium).

If your bowel movements don't return to normal within a few days of your period starting, or if the issues are getting in the way of your day-to-day life, talk to your healthcare provider to ensure there isn't something else going on.

Additionally, if you experience any of the following symptoms, be sure to follow up with your healthcare provider:

  • Very painful periods
  • Heavy bleeding during your period
  • Throbbing pain in your pelvis and upper legs
  • Persistent and severe digestive issues during your period and other times
  • Nausea and vomiting during your period

These symptoms can indicate an underlying issue, such as IBS or endometriosis.

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Frequently asked questions

Laxatives are generally safe to use for occasional constipation. However, it is important to follow the instructions on the package and not overuse them, as this can lead to side effects and even dependency.

There are several types of laxatives, including bulk-forming laxatives (fiber supplements), osmotic laxatives, stool softeners, lubricants, and stimulants. Most laxatives are available without a prescription, but some may require one.

If you are experiencing occasional constipation that has not improved with lifestyle changes such as increasing fibre intake, drinking more fluids, and exercising, then you may consider trying a laxative. However, it is always best to consult with your healthcare provider before taking any new medication.

Laxatives come in different forms, including pills, powders, liquids, suppositories, and enemas. It is important to follow the instructions on the package or those provided by your healthcare provider to ensure safe and effective use.

Some common side effects of taking laxatives include bloating, gas, and dehydration. More serious complications can occur with overuse or prolonged use, such as intestinal obstruction, electrolyte imbalance, and chronic constipation. Laxatives can also mask underlying conditions, so it is important to consult with a healthcare provider if constipation persists or is frequent.

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