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Digestive health centre

Parkinson's disease digestive problems and complications

A person with Parkinson's disease may develop problems with swallowing and going to the toilet, called autonomic dysfunction. These are things the body usually looks after on its own without the person having to think about them, but these can be disrupted by Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease can also cause a person to have to get up more often in the night to urinate.

Parkinson's disease and constipation

Constipation often affects people 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 three times a week. Going longer than three days without a bowel movement may cause 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 because of 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 can cause constipation.

What else causes constipation?

Other causes of constipation include:

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

How can I avoid getting constipated?

  • Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fibre. Good sources of fibre are fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grain bread and cereal. Most of the fibre in fruits is found in the skins. Fruits with edible seeds, such as strawberries, have the most fibre.
  • Drink about 2 litres of water and other fluids a day, which is a significant amount for some people.
  • 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. Do not use laxatives for more than two weeks without seeking medical advice since laxative overuse can aggravate your symptoms. Inappropriate use can cause excessive diarrhoea, salt imbalance and dehydration. Your pharmacist can advise you on the best course of action.

Warning

Seek medical advice if:

  • Constipation is a new problem for you.
  • You have blood in your stool.
  • You are losing weight even though you are not trying to lose weight.
  • You have severe pain with bowel movements.
  • Your constipation has lasted more than three weeks.
  • You have lost the sensation of knowing when you need to move your bowels.
  • You go to the toilet feeling that your lower bowel is full but there is nothing there (tenesmus).

WebMD Medical Reference

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