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Diseases That May Cause Constipation

Many Diseases Can Contribute to Constipation

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Updated November 07, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Gastrointestinal Conditions That Can Cause Constipation

There are several digestive diseases and conditions that could cause constipation.
  • Adhesions. Adhesions are a type of internal scarring that may happen after surgery. Adhesions can cause the bowel to become blocked or narrowed, and lead to constipation.

  • Bowel Obstructions. A blockage in the intestines that's preventing stool from moving through could be the cause of constipation. Obstructions are more common in Crohn's disease than in ulcerative colitis.

  • Chronic Idiopathic Constipation. A type of constipation with an unknown cause that doesn't always respond to at-home care such as eating more fiber and drinking more water. This type of constipation is more common in women, older people, and those who have IBS.

  • Colon Cancer. Colon cancer could cause constipation through a narrowing of the colon or rectum, or because a tumor is blocking the intestines.

  • Hirschsprung's Disease. A congenital condition, Hirschsprung's disease causes constipation because the bowel is missing some nerves that help to move waste material through.

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is a chronic condition that can cause diarrhea or constipation, or alternation between diarrhea and constipation. The reasons why IBS may cause constipation are poorly understood.

Diseases That Can Cause Constipation

Certain diseases and conditions can also cause constipation, including systemic diseases and those that affect the metabolic system or the neurological system.
  • Amyloidosis. When too much of the protein amyloid is found in the body, it is called amyloidosis. Constipation could be a result of a build-up of amyloid in the digestive tract.

  • Diabetes. Constipation is a common problem for people who have diabetes, especially those who have nerve damage that is causing a slowdown in the intestines.

  • Hypercalcemia. Hypercalcemia is too much calcium in the blood; this condition is usually a sign of disease such as cancer or primary hyperparathyroidism. Patients with hypercalcemia may be dehydrated, which can contribute to constipation.

  • Intestinal Pseudo-obstruction. In this rare condition, no mechanical obstruction can be found, yet the intestines are unable to move food through at a normal pace.

  • Lupus. An autoimmune disease, lupus could affect any part of the body. If lupus has an effect on the gastrointestinal tract, it could wind up causing constipation or other digestive conditions.

  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS). A common problem for people with MS, an estimated 50 to 75% of people with MS experience constipation. The lesions on the brain that occur with MS, coupled with certain medications and a lack of exercise, could lead to chronic constipation.

  • Parkinson's Disease (PD). Constipation is also a frequent problem for an estimated 20 to 40% of people with PD. PD leads to a lack of dopamine, which, among many other functions, is a chemical that helps stimulate the colon.

  • Scleroderma. Scleroderma is an autoimmune condition that can cause the muscles of the large intestine to weaken or to work less effectively, thereby causing constipation.

  • Spinal Cord Injury. An injury to the spinal cord could lead to the intestines being more sluggish, as well as decreased physical activity, fluid intake, and dietary fiber. Not being aware of when to have a bowel movement as well as certain medications can also contribute to constipation.

  • Stroke. After a stroke, approximately 30 to 60% of patients will experience constipation. The risk factors for constipation in those who have had a stroke include decreased physical activity and a diet that is low in fiber and fluids.

  • Thyroid Disease. People with thyroid disease, especially those with hypothyroidism, may experience constipation. Low levels of thyroid hormones could cause the intestines to move more slowly.

  • Uremia. A toxic condition that may occur when the kidneys are failing, uremia may cause a patient to develop constipation. Poor fluid intake and low levels of physical activity in these patients who are often seriously ill may contribute to bowel problems.

Sources:

Stanford Hospital & Clinics. "AL (Primary) Amyloidosis." StanfordHospital.org 2011. 27 Sept 2011.

Su Y, Zhang X, Zeng J, et al. "New-Onset Constipation at Acute Stage After First Stroke." Stroke 2009;40:1304-1309. 28 Sept 2011.

Suares NC, Ford AC. "Prevalence of, and Risk Factors for, Chronic Idiopathic Constipation in the Community: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis." Am J Gastroenterol 2011 Sep;106:1582-1591. 03 Sept 2011.

UCSF Medical Center. "Increasing Fiber Intake." The University of California 17 Aug 2011. 27 Sept 2011.

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