Constipation Can Cause Nausea—Here's What to Know if You're Experiencing Both
You know the less-than-comfortable feelings of constipation—fullness, cramping, and bloating are all too common when you just can't go to the bathroom.
But sometimes, constipation can cause some less obvious symptoms—and that, occasionally, can include nausea, Elana Maser, MD, assistant professor of gastroenterology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and gastroenterologist at the Feinstein IBD Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City tells Health.
The reason here has to do with the basic anatomy of our digestive systems. It's helpful, in this case, to think of the digestive system like them plumbing in your home, Rudolph Bedford, MD, gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA tells Health. "If things aren't going down the drain, things are backing up in your sink," he says. In the case of constipation, when stool blocks the route through your intestine, it can cause backup in your stomach. Even just the pressure of stool in your colon can press against the walls of the stomach and lead to nausea.
Eating when you're constipated can also cause stomach upset: "Sometimes people will feel nauseated because what they ate didn't pass through or is sitting in their stomach because of generalized slow motility," says Dr. Maser. People can also experience reflux related to constipation, which can make them nauseated.
As far as treating the nausea part of constipation, natural stomach-soothers like ginger or ginger ale may help, Dr. Bedford says. But the best way to treat nausea when you're constipated is to find a way to relieve yourself. Drinking caffeine can help get the bowels moving, as can drinking significant amounts of water, getting some exercise, or using over-the-counter laxatives (like Miralax) or enemas. Be wary of taking anti-nausea medication, like Zofran, because it, too, can cause constipation—exactly the kind of feedback loop you'll want to avoid.
Keep in mind, though, if your nausea and constipation is severe or doesn't go away with some sort of over-the-counter remedy, it may be time to seek medical attention. "If it's been over a week, see a doctor," says Dr. Bedford.
And if your constipation and nausea is paired with other more serious symptoms, like fever, significant pain in your abdomen, or bloody stools you'll want to get to an emergency department ASAP. If you're feeling constipation and nausea regularly, Dr. Maser also suggests seeking advice from a professional—in rare cases, she says those two symptoms can also be caused by multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease, though "most of the time there isn't an underlying condition; it's just constipation," says Dr. Maser.
Once you or your doctor are able to get things moving again—assuming there isn't an underlying condition at the root of your constipation and nausea—you'll want to try to make changes to your diet and lifestyle that will help you be more regular. Common causes of constipation are dehydration, too little fiber, and certain medications, says Dr. Bedford. If you find that lifestyle changes aren't enough to keep things moving, talk to your doctor, who can help rule out other illnesses and set you up with a plan that might be more effective for you.
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