Can menopause cause changes in bowel movements?

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Menopause Advisor
@EileenDurward
Ask Eileen


13 September 2021

Today's topic

Today on A.Vogel Talks Menopause, I take a look at how menopause can cause changes in your bowel movement.

It's the one subject that nobody wants to talk about, but so many women contact me asking, "Does menopause affect the way they go to the toilet? Could it be a factor? Why is this happening? And what can they do to put it right?" So, it's a problem that needs to be addressed and explained.

How does menopause affect your bowels?

I thought today that I would take a closer look at two issues that can happen during menopause and that is constipation and diarrhoea, explaining what causes these problems and what can help them.

Constipation

Constipation seems to be very common and the majority of women will suffer from this rather than diarrhoea. Hormonal changes, especially oestrogen levels dropping, slow down the transit time that food moves through the digestive tract, and this is what ends up causing constipation.

Now, what is the definition of constipation? You will probably find different quotes about it in different situations. As far as we're concerned, if you are having three meals a day, then you need to have at least one bowel movement a day. So, in any situation where you're not having daily, regular bowel movements would be considered constipation, for example not having a bowel movement for a few days or sometimes even longer.

Constipation can cause you to pass hard, dry stools. You may find it very uncomfortable. Sometimes, it can be quite painful. Some women find that they go to the toilet and then feel as if they haven't completely emptied their bowels and that can be very uncomfortable.

Having undigested or digested food sitting in the digestive tract for longer than normal can also cause other issues too, apart from just feeling uncomfortable, such as sluggishness. A lot of women find that once they've been to the toilet, their energy level increases and they feel a lot better.

Constipation can even be a contributory factor to brain fog and fatigue. So, you can see how important it is to have regular bowel movements.

It could also be due to poor or weak muscles in the pelvic floor girdle because these muscles hold up your bowel, bladder and uterus. If these muscles weaken, then these organs can slightly shift position. And some women can experience what is called a bowel prolapse. So, if the bowel changes position, it can be a lot harder to control the bowel and to use the muscles to clear the bowel regularly.

What can help?

So, what can you do here to help yourself with constipation? Water is very important. Dehydration is one of the major causes of constipation so drinking plenty of water can make a difference quickly.

Make sure you're eating a lot of fibre-rich foods. So, food such as vegetables, a little bit of fruit, wholemeal or whole grain fibres, a little bit of bread, proper oatmeal, can all be really helpful at bulking everything out.

Prune juice can be great for mild constipation. But make sure that it is not sweetened prune juice because you don't want to get these sugar hits. A small glass of prune juice every day can sometimes make quite a difference here.

Get used to doing regular pelvic floor exercises because, again, you want to keep these muscles strong to help with bowel function.

If you need some extra help, you can go for natural laxatives such as linseed or even have a daily serving of flaxseed. Some of the proprietary laxatives can be uncomfortable and can give you urgings to go at the wrong time, so maybe look at more natural laxatives. You'll get really good, natural laxatives at your local health food store or local pharmacy and you can find out one that will be suitable for you. These tend not to cause discomfort.

But the really important thing here is that if you get constipated regularly, do try and sort it out if you can.

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Diarrhoea

Very often, an increase in bowel movement during menopause can be caused by progesterone levels dropping quite quickly. It can also be triggered by stress and anxiety, both of which can quickly affect the bowel.

It's all to do with the flight or fight situation. During menopause, anxiety attacks and panic attacks can increase quite dramatically. And your bowel can get into bad habits of reacting very quickly to certain situations.

Some women do find that they get much more prone to diarrhoea regularly. With this particular one, bear in mind, IBS itself can be a big factor in menopause.

What can help?

If you are getting a combination of constipation and diarrhoea, what most people do is try and treat diarrhoea, but it's constipation that's causing diarrhoea. So, in this situation, if you're getting both, you need to treat constipation and, very often, that will ease diarrhoea.

Looking at diarrhoea itself, you need to deal with stress if that's an issue. Make sure that you drink plenty of water because diarrhoea will dehydrate you quickly. And avoid things like alcohol and coffee because they can contribute to diarrhoea too.
The really important thing here, if your diarrhoea is going on for more than a few days at a time, you do need to double-check with your doctor just to make sure that there is nothing else going on that may not be associated with menopause.

I hope you found this one helpful. If you have any more questions about this one, it is a bit of an embarrassing situation, but as I mentioned at the beginning, so many women can suffer from either constipation or diarrhoea during menopause, so it can normally be fixed quite quickly.

If any of you have any tips, if you found a certain food has really helped you with constipation or diarrhoea, or anything else that can make you feel better, then please share it with us because we would love to hear about it.

Key things to take away from this blog:

  • Fluctuating hormones and slower digestion during menopause are often the main causes of increasing or decreasing bowel movements during menopause, which can result in two digestive problems – constipation and diarrhoea.
  • Poor pelvic muscles can also contribute to constipation, whilst stress and anxiety, which are both common during menopause are also triggers for diarrhoea.
  • Drinking plenty of water, eating fibre-rich foods, natural laxatives for constipation and regular exercise can all help the digestive system and reduce troublesome bowel changes.

Until next week, take care.

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Did you know?

You won’t get the menopause the minute you turn 50! The average starting age is actually between 45 and 55 and it can often depend on a number of factors including hereditary, weight and health, however every single woman will have an individual menopause.

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