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Parkinson's Disease and Constipation

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Constipation often affects those with Parkinson's disease. It occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. The normal length of time between bowel movements (also known as "stools") ranges widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements three times a day; others only one to two times a week. Going longer than three days without a bowel movement causes the stool to harden and become more difficult to pass.

What Causes Constipation in People With Parkinson's Disease?

In some people with Parkinson's disease, constipation may occur due to the improper functioning of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating smooth muscle activity. If this system is not working properly, the intestinal tract may operate slowly, causing constipation.

Also, medications used to treat Parkinson's disease (such as Artane and Cogentin) can cause constipation.

What Else Causes Constipation?

Other causes of constipation include:

  • Not drinking enough water
  • A diet low in fiber
  • Lack of exercise
  • Travel or another change in routine
  • Eating large amounts of dairy products
  • Stress
  • Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
  • Other medicines (especially strong pain medicines such as opioids, antidepressants, and iron pills)
  • Medical problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, and colorectal cancer (rarely)
  • Pregnancy

How Can I Avoid Getting Constipated?

  • Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fiber. Good sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grain bread and cereal. Most of the fiber in fruits is found in the skins. Fruits with edible seeds, such as strawberries, have the most fiber. Eat bran cereal or add bran cereal to other foods, such as soup.
  • Drink 1½ to 2 quarts of water and other fluids a day. (Note: Milk can cause constipation in some people.) Liquids that contain caffeine, such as coffee and soft drinks, seem to have a dehydrating effect and may need to be avoided until your bowel habits return to normal.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Move your bowels when you feel the urge.

How Is Constipation Treated?

  • Drink two to four extra glasses of water a day.
  • Try warm liquids, especially in the morning.
  • Add fruits and vegetables to your diet.
  • Eat prunes and/or bran cereal.
  • If needed, use a very mild stool softener or laxative (such as Pericolace or Milk of Magnesia). Do not use laxatives for more than two weeks without calling your doctor since laxative overuse can aggravate your symptoms.
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