Does chronic constipation make people more prone to heart problems? Some studies suggest the answer is yes, but the evidence is far from clear. As is true for all observational study findings, a correlation between two conditions doesn’t mean that one causes the other.
“Another problem is that constipation can be defined in many ways, so results from different researchers vary,” says Dr. Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Nearly everyone gets “backed up” once in a while, but chronic constipation is different (see “What is chronic constipation?”). In fact, other studies, including one Dr. Staller coauthored, found no association between constipation and heart-related conditions.
|What is chronic constipation?Chronic constipation is often described as having fewer than three bowel movements per week. Other common symptoms includestraininghaving lumpy or hard stoolsfeeling as though your rectum or anus is blockedneeding help to empty your rectum, such as pressing on your lower belly with your hands or using a finger to remove feces.|
A questionable link?
A study published Sept. 1, 2020, by BMJ Open used data from the Danish National Patient Registry to explore the constipation-cardiovascular link. Researchers matched more than 83,000 people diagnosed with constipation with more than 832,000 people of the same age and sex who weren’t constipated. Constipation was associated with a 20% to 50% higher risk of heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease (narrowing of the arteries in the legs), atrial fibrillation, and heart failure.
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But how these researchers defined constipation wasn’t clear. Also, the associations were strongest during the first year after the constipation diagnosis and then tailed off. Normally, if something is causing something else, there’s a cumulative effect, and the link grows stronger, not weaker, over time, Dr. Staller explains. In this case, the trend suggests that other unmeasured factors, such as short-term illness and medication use, may be causing the excess heart-related problems in people who are constipated, he says.
However, the results revealed one interesting finding that may merit further study. Compared with people who weren’t constipated, those with constipation were about twice as likely to develop blood clots in the veins (venous thromboembolism). These potentially dangerous clots usually occur in the legs. But in rare cases, clots form in the veins that carry blood from the gastrointestinal organs, including the large intestine (colon). Known as splanchnic venous thrombosis, this problem was four times as common in people with constipation than in those without.
The connection between constipation and these uncommon clots makes sense, says Dr. Staller. “Your colon might not work as well as it should if there are blood flow problems in your gut,” he says. In rare instances, constipation could be a warning sign of vascular disease in the gut.
Don’t become overly concerned about this possibility, Dr. Staller cautions. Some people simply tend to be a bit constipated and have been that way their entire lives. For others, constipation is usually a temporary problem with a clear cause, such as travel, a schedule change, or a new medication. Narcotic pain relievers that contain oxycodone (Percocet, Percodan) are notorious for causing constipation. Other possible culprits include diuretics (which remove fluid from the body to treat high blood pressure), iron supplements, and aluminum-containing antacids.
But if you’re in your 60s or 70s and suddenly develop constipation without a clear cause, that may be more worrisome and warrants a visit to your physician, says Dr. Staller. Also worth noting: straining and bearing down to have a bowel movement can temporarily boost blood pressure, putting your cardiovascular system at risk. So, take steps to avoid or treat constipation, including eating fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and drinking at least four to six glasses of fluid daily.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
2 Peter 1:3
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.
1 Chronicles 29:12
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
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