One of the most common and bothersome complications of having Gastroparesis is dealing with constipation. Due to the fact that Gastroparesis requires a low-fat and a low-fiber diet, difficulties arise with constipation in order to avoid bezoars (food masses) and abdominal pain in patients with Gastroparesis (for more information on why a low fiber diet is required for Gastroparesis please visit http://gnewithgp.com/2013/07/03/what-you-didnt-know-about-fiber-gastroparesis-10-surprisingly-high-fiber-foods/). Constipation alone can cause a number of complications in patients who don’t have Gastroparesis but when constipation becomes a chronic secondary condition, it can wreak further havoc on the patient’s quality of life.
A definition for constipation is having a bowel movement that is difficult to pass. Diagnosing constipation can be difficult at times because what may be considered a normal bowel movement for some may not be a normal for others. As stated by The Mayo Clinic “There’s no generally accepted clinical definition for frequent bowel movements. Bowel habits vary widely among healthy people. Some healthy people may have three bowel movements per week, while others may have three per day (See http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/frequent-bowel-movements/MY00786 for more information).” In spite of this lack of consensus, however, it is widely believed that having fewer than 2 bowel movements per week can be a concerning indication that you may have constipation. Bowel movement consistency, irregularities in which are the leading cause of constipation, can fluctuate and vary from person to person depending on their diet, their ability to maintain hydration, the amount of exercise they do, what illnesses they may have, and depending on how their own body functions.
Besides having Gastroparesis, there are a number of ways in which constipation can arise or become more prevalent and not getting enough liquids is one of them. As stated by WebMD “Water makes up approximately 60% of your body’s weight. By lubricating the intestines and the food we eat, water can help prevent and alleviate chronic constipation by facilitating the flow of food though the intestines. (see http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/water-a-fluid-way-to-manage-constipation for more information).” On average a healthy consumption of water consists of drinking eight, eight-ounce glasses in a period of twenty-four hours. Depending on how much exercise you do and what type of climate you’re living in, you may need to increase the amount of water you intake to keep up with what your body needs to stay healthy and to have regular bowel movements. Another way to increase your risk of having chronic constipation is by not getting enough exercise. It’s well proven and well documented that staying physically active helps the muscles in your digestive system to contract and break down food as well as physically move it through your digestive tract. Just taking a short walk around the block can aid in your ability to pass stool and overcome issues with constipation.
Other diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Adhesions, Intestinal Pseudo-obstruction, bowel obstructions, colon cancer, Gastroparesis, Hirshsprung’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Diabetes, and Diverticulitis can cause constipation. Constipation is often a secondary condition to a more serious problem so it’s always important to talk to your doctor about any changes in bowl movements and discuss treatment options.
Not having enough fiber intake can also increase the risk of having chronic constipation. Due to the fact that those with Gastroparesis have a difficult time passing fiber through their digestive tract, it’s ill-advised to increase the amount of fiber in their diet as a way of overcoming chronic constipation. With that being said, some forms of fiber that are broken down and are more highly processed such as Miralax Powder or increasing the amount of well-cooked or pureed versions of high fiber foods can help alleviate chronic constipation.
Many times patients with Gastroparesis fail to realize the negative effect that chronic constipation can have on their body. Not having a healthy bowel movement and stool consistency can cause a number of complications, but having chronic constipation can pave the way to more serious illnesses or even hide underlying problems. Further complications include, but are not limited to: mesocaval obstruction, stercoral ulcers, colonic diverticula, cancer, loss of appetite, an increase in sexual disorders, hemorrhoids (inflamed veins around or inside of the anus due to straining that can cause bleeding, leaking of stool, pain, itching, or discomfort around the anus), anal fissures (which are internal or external tears that can cause pain, itching, bleeding, and infections), and anal fistulas.
Constipation can be a tough problem to fix as many quick or common solutions may have unintended negative side effects. Using laxatives, for example, to remedy constipation can also lead to a number of complications such as a lack of absorption of essential vitamins and minerals in the digestive tract, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance or deficiency, or chronic diarrhea. Natural treatments for constipation such as increasing your water intake or exercise regimen is often the best way to start your treatment for constipation rather than skipping straight to the quickest solutions such as laxatives. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor about medication alternatives to treat your constipation and come up with a plan for treating chronic constipation should your symptoms fail to regulate. Below is a list of common natural remedies for this condition. While these may help, always bear in mind that only your medical professional can help you decide what is best for your unique situation.
Natural alternative constipation treatments for those with Gastroparesis
• Olive oil
• Canola oil
• Senna leaves- Senna Tea
• Dandelion leaves- Dandelion Tea
• Colon massage
• Prune juice
• Aloe Vera juice
• Exercise- especially light exercise like walking after eating
• Drinking warm water
• Juiced blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, or raspberries – if tolerated (strain out skins, and seeds)
• Pilates, Yoga
• Hot milk
• Relaxation techniques for stress
• Flax oil (if tolerated)
• Potato juice
• Mix ¼ a cup of carrot juice, ½ a cup of Sauerkraut juice, mixed with 1 cup of tomato juice and taken three times a day
• Apple juice
• Castor oil (under doctor supervision only)
• Licorice root tea
• Diet- eating less highly-processed foods such as fresh foods but well-cooked and not packaged
• Watermelon (if tolerated) or watermelon juice
• Blackstrap Molasses
• Teaspoon of honey in a glass of warm water, taken twice a day
• One teaspoon of corn syrup in a glass of water, taken once a day
• Bael fruit juice
• Cranberry juice
• Pear juice
• Papaya juice
Editor: Austin Watson