Constipation is an uncomfortable but common symptom. People who have constipation may experience additional symptoms, such as abdominal pain or nausea. Nausea is the queasiness and uncomfortable feeling in the stomach that makes a person feel as if they are going to vomit.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), define constipation as painful, infrequent bowel movements that consist of hard, dry stools. The NIDDK estimate that constipation affects 16% of adults in the United States and 33% of adults over 60 years of age.
Keep reading to learn more about the links between constipation and nausea that some people also experience.
Dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as a lack of physical exercise, can cause constipation in some people. However, chronic or recurring constipation may indicate a more serious underlying medical condition, such as an intestinal obstruction or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Typically, conditions that cause constipation may also lead to nausea and other digestive symptoms.
Some possible causes of nausea due to constipation include:
An intestinal obstruction occurs when a blockage forms in the intestines, preventing the passage of digested food and waste materials.
An intestinal obstruction can be due to partially passed stools, inflammation, or a buildup of scar tissue after surgery. Sometimes, the intestines can get twisted around themselves, resulting in a condition doctors call volvulus.
Intestinal obstructions prevent the normal passage of stools, which can lead to constipation. People who have an intestinal obstruction may experience a wide range of symptoms, depending on the location and severity of the blockage.
An obstruction in the small intestine, near the stomach, can cause nausea and vomiting. If left untreated, an intestinal obstruction can cause serious complications, including:
- severe infection, such as sepsis
- bowel necrosis
- bowel perforation
Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammation that relates to IBD can cause numerous uncomfortable digestive symptoms, such as:
- partial bowel movements, or incomplete evacuation
- stomach pain
- bloody stools
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects the large intestines, causing symptoms, such as:
- stomach pain and cramping
- excess gas or bloating
The effects of these IBS symptoms may lead to nausea.
The exact cause of IBS remains unknown. However, researchers have identified several potential underlying factors, such as:
Side effects of laxatives or other medications
Certain over-the-counter and prescription medications can cause digestive problems, including constipation and nausea. People who develop constipation after starting a new medication should speak with their doctor.
Lubiprostone is a medication for treating constipation that relates to IBS. Nausea is one of the chief side effects, according to one 2014 article.
Laxatives can stimulate bowel movements and relieve constipation. However, these treatments can also have side effects, such as:
- stomach pain
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) list nausea as one of the main side effects of lactulose, a common laxative made from synthetic sugar.
People can develop constipation for numerous reasons, such as dietary changes, lack of exercise, and, in some cases, as a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
People with constipation may experience additional symptoms, including:
- pain during bowel movements
- difficulty in passing stools
- passing hard, dry, or lumpy stools
- incomplete evacuation, or feeling the need to pass stool even after visiting the bathroom
- decreased appetite
- unintentional weight loss
Treatments for constipation-associated nausea vary, depending on the underlying cause.
Doctors often prescribe medication to treat symptoms of IBS and IBD.
Dietary and lifestyle changes can help relieve occasional constipation and even reduce IBS and IBD flare-ups.
In the beginning, people may want to avoid foods and beverages that may upset the digestive system. These can include:
- processed foods
- high fat foods
- carbonated drinks
- caffeinated beverages
- dairy products
- red meat
Keeping a food diary can help people identify which foods trigger constipation or nausea. Identifying potential food intolerances can help someone avoid them in the future.
Eating more fiber and staying hydrated can help relieve constipation. Fiber adds bulk to stool, and water keeps them soft, which makes stool easier to pass.
Getting enough physical activity also helps promote regular bowel movements. However, hitting the gym may be the last thing on someone's mind when they feel nauseous or constipated. If this is the case, they may want to try going for a gentle walk after a meal.
If a person's symptoms do not improve after implementing some of these lifestyle and dietary changes, they may want to consider seeing a doctor or other healthcare professional.
People should seek immediate medical attention if they experience constipation or nausea in addition to any of the following symptoms:
- excessive thirst
- severe pain in the abdomen
- black or bloody stools
- unexplained weight loss
Nausea and constipation can occur at the same time. Numerous possible factors, including lifestyle and dietary changes to underlying GI conditions, may result in uncomfortable digestive symptoms.
People who experience recurring bouts of nausea and constipation may want to start a food journal to identify potential food intolerances.
Speaking with a doctor can help uncover the underlying cause of digestive problems. Doctors can also recommend safe and effective treatments that they base on people's medical history and current symptoms.