Constipation can cause nausea due to pressure from stool accumulation, the growth of harmful bacteria and other microorganisms in your gut, or the delay of food moving from your stomach to your digestive tract.
Nausea with constipation is more common for people with conditions like IBS or IBD.
If you experience constipation with nausea, vomiting, and/or severe abdominal pain, call your doctor. These may be signs of a serious underlying condition.
Why does constipation cause nausea?
There are 3 reasons constipation may cause nausea: pressure from accumulated stool, bacterial overgrowth, or the delay of food in the stomach reaching the intestines.
When you’re constipated, your colon fills with fecal matter that isn’t moving through your large intestine and rectum as efficiently as normal. This buildup of hard stools can create a blockage or accumulation. The pressure and buildup from this accumulated stool may cause you to feel nauseous.
As poop lingers in your colon for an extended period, pathogenic bacteria and other microorganisms have more time to proliferate. This can also affect your digestive health and potentially trigger nausea.
Finally, it’s possible for constipation to create the feeling of nausea when the slow motility of the digestive tract stops food from going from your stomach to your intestines. This can also lead to vomiting.
What does constipation nausea feel like? Constipation nausea might feel like mild queasiness, typical nausea, or the feeling of bloating and pressure.
In some instances, constipation might also worsen existing gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). If you have IBS or IBD, you’re more likely to experience nausea along with other symptoms when you’re constipated (especially if you’re female).
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Other constipation symptoms
While nausea can be a side effect of constipation, there are several other symptoms that you might experience when you get “backed up.”
Here are some of the other common symptoms associated with constipation:
- Infrequent bowel movements: If you’re having fewer than 3 bowel movements per week, it’s a sign of constipation.
- Hard or lumpy stools: Constipation often causes your stools to become hard and difficult to pass. Stool types 1 and 2 are common with constipation.
- Straining during bowel movements: You may find yourself straining or applying pressure to pass stools when you’re constipated.
- Feeling of incomplete evacuation: Even after going to the bathroom, you might still feel like you haven’t fully emptied your bowels.
- Abdominal bloating or discomfort: Constipation can cause bloating, swelling, or general discomfort in your belly.
- Gas and flatulence: A buildup of gas in the digestive system is common when you’re constipated. This may lead to increased flatulence.
- Stomach cramps: Cramping with constipation often happens when you’ve built up gas, and having a bowel movement or passing gas can help. But if you have stomach cramps, constipation, and aren’t able to fart or poop, see a doctor to find out if there’s an underlying condition you need to address.
- Decreased appetite: Constipation may cause you to feel less hungry due to the discomfort and bloating in your abdomen. Plus, it’s hard to want food when you have stomach pain.
- Back pain: If your constipation is bad enough to cause nausea, it may also cause moderate back pain.
Constipation may cause both stomach upset and fatigue. You can get tired due to constipation because fewer nutrients are converted to energy when your bowels move slower, meaning you have less energy to work with.
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What causes constipation?
Constipation can be triggered by anything from lifestyle choices to medical conditions.
These are the most common causes of constipation:
- Not enough fiber: If you’re not getting adequate dietary fiber, your stools may become hard and difficult to pass.
- Poor hydration: Not drinking enough water can contribute to constipation by making your stools harder.
- Lack of physical activity: Regular exercise can stimulate your digestive system and promote healthy bowel movements. Sedentary people are generally more likely to experience symptoms of constipation.
- Ignoring the urge to go: If you consistently ignore or postpone the urge to go to the bathroom, your body may start to hold onto stools.
- Certain medications: Some medications, such as antacids, opioid painkillers, and antidepressants, can cause constipation as a side effect. Talk to your healthcare provider if you think your medication might be causing constipation.
- Stress: High levels of stress can negatively impact your digestive system. Anxiety and chronic stress can also cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, and other health conditions that impact your digestion.
- Acid reflux: When the lower esophageal sphincter weakens or abnormally relaxes, stomach acid can flow back into the esophagus, leading to heartburn and nausea. In some cases, alleviating constipation may reduce the frequency and intensity of acid reflux, reducing or eliminating the associated nausea.
- Medications: Over-the-counter or prescription medications designed to treat diarrhea may cause constipation by hardening your stools. Imodium (loperamide) and Pepto-Bismol may constipate you. The prescription medication Lubiprostone, used to treat IBS symptoms, often causes constipation. Opioids for pain are also known to cause both constipation and nausea.
- Medical conditions: Some health issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, and thyroid disorders, can contribute to constipation.
- Bowel obstruction: A bowel or intestinal obstruction occurs when the bowel becomes partially or completely blocked. This prevents the normal passage of digested food and waste through your intestines. Bowel obstructions may result from many factors or conditions, such as a tumor, scar tissue, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, colon cancer, or a twisting of the intestines, known as volvulus.
How to alleviate constipation and nausea
Depending on the cause, there are several strategies that can help you find relief from feeling nauseous and unable to defecate. Here are a few practical steps to try:
1. Consume more fiber
Increasing your fiber intake can add bulk to your stools, making them easier to pass.
Add fiber-rich foods like these to your diet:
- Whole grains
Note: Fiber doesn’t necessarily help you have less painful stools or notably change their consistency. You may still need to implement other remedies to get rid of constipation completely.
2. Drink more water
Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help soften your stools and prevent constipation. Most people should drink at least 64 ounces of water each day, though you may need more if your weight is above average or you live in a hot, humid climate.
3. Exercise regularly
Physical activity stimulates your digestive system and promotes regular bowel movements. However, it may be difficult to work out when you’re feeling constipated and nauseous.
Try one of these low-impact activities to get yourself moving:
Note: “Normal” physical activity is often prescribed for patients suffering from chronic constipation without a known cause. However, low-intensity exercise may not actually alleviate constipation.
If you can, consider higher-intensity activities and implement more exercise as one of the multiple strategies for addressing constipation.
4. Establish a routine for your bowel movements
When your body is used to a consistent pooping routine, you’ll likely have more regular and comfortable bowel movements.
Set aside time each day, preferably after a meal, to relax and give yourself the opportunity to go to the bathroom.
5. Eat less processed foods
Processed foods can contribute to constipation because they’re low in fiber and high in unhealthy fats. Limit your intake of processed and fast foods, and opt for more whole, natural options instead.
6. Use a fiber supplement
If you struggle with chronic constipation, a fiber supplement may help you clear your digestive tract and keep you regular.
Seek medical advice before beginning a new supplement regimen, or if you continue to experience constipation.
7. Try laxatives or stool softeners
Over-the-counter laxatives or stool softeners are the best way to get rid of constipation fast. They significantly improve the ease of passing hardened stool, although they frequently cause diarrhea as a side effect.
Talk to your healthcare provider before using these products, as they might not be suitable for everyone and aren’t supposed to be used long-term.
If you’re avoiding medication, consider natural laxatives such as apple juice, chia seeds, prunes, or coffee.
8. Consider an enema or suppository
If you’ve tried other remedies and still struggle with constipation with nausea, you might want to consider using an enema or suppository.
An enema involves gently introducing a liquid, typically water or a saline solution, into the rectum to help soften and flush out hard stools. This process can provide quick relief from constipation and help you get rid of associated symptoms like nausea.
Suppositories are also rectal laxatives, but in a cone- or bullet-shaped, firm medication. They’re a bit slower than an enema, sometimes taking around an hour to work.
While enemas and laxatives can provide short-term relief, they aren’t a good long-term solution for constipation. Overusing them can lead to an imbalance in your body’s electrolytes and cause irritation or damage to the rectal tissues.
Discuss these treatments with your primary care provider or grastroenterologist before you try them, especially if you have existing health conditions. They can help you figure out whether an enema or suppository is appropriate for your situation and recommend other treatment options if necessary.
When to call your doctor
While constipation and nausea can often be managed with lifestyle changes and home remedies, sometimes, you need medical attention.
If you experience any of the following situations, consult your healthcare provider:
- You’re vomiting, bloating, and experiencing belly pain. These symptoms may indicate an intestinal obstruction.
- Your constipation and nausea last for more than a week or happen frequently despite trying home remedies and lifestyle changes.
- You notice blood in your stools or experience severe abdominal pain, which could indicate a more serious underlying issue. You may notice blood in your stool (a sign of bleeding in the lower GI tract) or black, tarry stools that indicate bleeding higher in your digestive system.
- You experience unintentional weight loss, as this could be a sign of a more severe medical condition.
- You have difficulty passing stools after trying over-the-counter remedies.
- You notice a sudden change in your bowel habits that lasts for more than 2 weeks.
- You experience symptoms of dehydration, such as dark-colored urine, dizziness, or excessive thirst.
Depending on the severity of your constipation and how long you’ve been struggling, you may or may not be able to work with your primary care provider to address the issue. They may refer to you to a gastroenterologist (a GI specialist) for follow-up care.
A note about bowel obstruction: Ignoring constipation and nausea associated with bowel obstruction can have serious consequences. Left untreated, a bowel obstruction can lead to a decrease in blood flow to the affected area of the intestine, which could cause tissue death.
The obstruction can also eventually rupture, leading to a life-threatening infection called peritonitis.
If you’re experiencing constipation and nausea with other symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, bloating, or vomiting, seek medical attention immediately.
Ignoring constipation and nausea can lead to several long-term consequences that negatively impact your overall health and quality of life.
Some potential long-term effects of not dealing with constipation and nausea include:
- Chronic constipation: If you don’t address it, occasional constipation can develop into a chronic condition. This makes it harder for you to pass stools and may cause discomfort on a regular basis.
- Hemorrhoids: Straining frequently during bowel movements can cause the blood vessels in your rectum to swell, leading to painful and itchy hemorrhoids.
- Anal fissures: Straining can also result in small tears in the lining of the anus, known as anal fissures. These can cause pain and bleeding during bowel movements. Anal fissures are one cause of dark stool.
- Fecal impaction: Severe constipation sometimes leads to a buildup of hard, dry stool in the rectum, known as fecal impaction. This can cause severe abdominal pain, and you may need medical intervention to fix it.
- Rectal prolapse: In extreme cases, long-term constipation and straining can cause the rectum to protrude through the anus. This condition is called rectal prolapse.
- Aggravation of other conditions: Ignoring constipation and nausea might exacerbate other gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Decreased quality of life: Chronic constipation and nausea can lead to reduced quality of life due to pain, discomfort, and stress.