April 24, 2024

Constipation can leave you feeling heavy, bloated, and uncomfortable. If you’ve been tracking your weight, you may notice that the number on your scale is creeping up, too.

It’s true: constipation may be linked to a slight, temporary weight gain. But constipation isn’t the only reason for weight fluctuations. Sudden weight gain is sometimes a warning sign of serious illness.1 Read on to learn how to manage constipation and determine when to see a doctor.

What causes constipation?

Our bodies have a complex system designed to handle food and fluids. Each day, your body processes everything you eat and drink. First, it absorbs critical fluids and nutrients. Next, your digestive system processes the remaining waste.2

If your digestive system works as it should, this process works smoothly. But if digestion slows down, you may feel abdominal pain or bloating. You may strain to have a bowel movement or feel that you’re unable to empty your bowels. You may also notice that your stools are hard or lumpy.

Most people experience mild constipation many times during their lives. You might develop constipation due to:1

  • Pregnancy
  • High-fat diet
  • Lack of fiber
  • Dehydration
  • Illicit drug use
  • Sedentary lifestyle

Chronic health issues can lead to constipation, too. Digestive disorders or disorders of the nervous system can interfere with bowel movements. Hormones can play a role, too. Some people who menstruate report feeling more constipated during their periods. Others may have difficulty passing stool during pregnancy or menopause.1

Rarely, constipation can be a sign of a colon blockage. A tumor or other growth may prevent stool from passing or create abdominal bloating.3 That’s why a health care provider should always investigate chronic or recurring constipation.

If your constipation is worsening or returns after treatment, don’t wait until your next annual wellness visit. Instead, book an appointment with your health care provider. They can determine the cause of your constipation and recommend an appropriate treatment.

How do I know if my symptoms are a sign of constipation?

The frequency of bowel movements can vary. Healthy people often have a bowel movement once or twice per day, but some people pass stool less frequently. For some healthy individuals, bowel movements may only occur three times a week.4

Infrequent bowel movements aren’t necessarily a sign of constipation. To determine if your weight gain might be caused by constipation, consider the consistency of your stool. The Bristol stool chart shows what your stool should look like.5 Type 3 and 4 stools are considered signs of good digestive health. Healthy stools should pass painlessly and shouldn’t require straining.

If passing stool is painful, you may be constipated. Lumpy stools, like Type 1 or 2, also indicate constipation. For some, constipation presents with bloating, cramping, or a feeling of fullness. These symptoms suggest that something in your digestive system isn’t working as it should.

Why does constipation cause weight gain?

Experts estimate that most healthy adults pass up to one pound of stool daily.6 If you’ve been struggling to have a bowel movement for several days, you might notice that the scale’s number has increased. This temporary weight gain may be a sign of excess stool in the colon.

Many people drink extra fluids in an attempt to soften their stool. While this approach can help ease constipation, it can cause additional weight gain. Rest assured that your weight should stabilize once your constipation resolves. Once you pass the excess stool and fluid, your weight should decrease.

Keep in mind that constipation only causes slight changes in your weight. If you’ve gained more than one or two pounds, your weight gain is likely due to another cause.

What are some other causes of unexplained weight gain?

If your weight doesn’t return to normal after a bowel movement, something else might be the cause. Weight gain often occurs due to a change in diet or exercise habits. A diet that contains a large amount of processed or fatty foods can lead to both weight gain and constipation.7

Weight gain can also result from a high-stress lifestyle. Research shows that lack of sleep can lead to an increase in body weight.8 Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain, too.9 If you suffer from stress or are using alcohol to cope, speak to your health care provider. They can help you find healthier ways to manage stress.

Sometimes, unexplained weight gain may occur despite a healthy diet and active lifestyle. If you aren’t sure why your weight is increasing, it’s time for a checkup.

Unexplained weight gain could be a sign of:10

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Certain types of cancer

During each visit to your health care provider, let your provider know if you have recently experienced any unexplained weight changes. Your provider might order blood or imaging tests. These tests can rule out serious conditions like cancer. They can also identify hormone imbalances that may contribute to weight gain.

How to clear up constipation

If your weight gain is due to constipation, it’s time to give your digestive system a helping hand. First, make sure to drink plenty of water. Dehydration is a common cause of constipation.1 Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugary drinks for now, and stick to plain water. Hydration can reduce bloating and promote healthy bowel movements.

At mealtimes, opt for fiber-rich foods like oats, brown rice, legumes, and vegetables. Limit your consumption of meat, cheese, and other dairy products, as these can worsen constipation.7

If you need help getting your daily dose of fiber, you can also try over-the-counter supplements. However, try to avoid products that contain sugar or other additives. Sugar substitutes may increase bloating.11

Exercise helps the muscles in your gut do their job. Try taking a daily walk or performing a short yoga session at home. Regular exercise keeps food moving through your digestive system and may help you to have a bowel movement.7

If your constipation doesn’t respond to lifestyle changes, a mild laxative can help. Osmotic or non-stimulant laxatives can bulk up stool and boost the water content to help your body pass stool naturally.12

Avoid over-the-counter stimulant laxatives as a first-line option. These can irritate your digestive tract. In older patients, stimulant laxatives may cause diarrhea, dehydration, or other complications.12 If you aren’t sure which laxative to take, talk to your health care provider. They can help you select a safe option.

Always check with your provider before taking laxatives while pregnant or nursing. If you’re taking prescription medications, check with your provider or pharmacist before trying over-the-counter products. Sometimes, these products can have harmful interactions with prescription drugs.

When to see a health care provider

Mild constipation usually responds well to at-home treatment. Fluids, fiber, and patience should clear things up. Most people report having a bowel movement within a day or two. Over-the-counter laxatives generally produce a bowel movement within 6 hours.13

But if your constipation doesn’t respond to at-home care, you may have a colon blockage or another serious condition. Call your health care provider for advice. If you develop severe abdominal or pelvic pain along with constipation, go straight to the ER. These symptoms can be a sign of appendicitis or ectopic pregnancy.

When in doubt, it’s always best to seek professional guidance. Fortunately, the team at Healthcare Associates of Texas is here to help. Request an appointment today and let our providers get you back on the road to good health.


  1. “Symptoms & Causes of Constipation.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. May 2018. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/symptoms-causes.
  2. “Your Digestive System & How It Works.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. 2023. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works.
  3. Włodarczyk, Jakub, Anna Waśniewska, Jakub Fichna, Adam Dziki, Łukasz Dziki, and Marcin Włodarczyk. “Current Overview on Clinical Management of Chronic Constipation.” Journal of Clinical Medicine 10, no. 8 (April 16, 2021): 1738. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm10081738.
  4. “Definition & Facts for Constipation.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. N.D. Accessed March 20, 2024. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/definition-facts.
  5. “Bristol Stool Form Scale.” Pediatric General Surgery. N.D. Accessed March 20, 2024. https://pediatricsurgery.stanford.edu/Conditions/BowelManagement/bristol-stool-form-scale.html.
  6. Cummings, John H., Sheila A. Bingham, Kenneth W. Heaton, and Martin A. Eastwood. “Fecal Weight, Colon Cancer Risk, and Dietary Intake of Nonstarch Polysaccharides (Dietary Fiber).” Gastroenterology 103, no. 6 (December 1992): 1783–89. https://doi.org/10.1016/0016-5085(92)91435-7.
  7. “Constipation: Self-Care.” MedlinePlus. N.D. Accessed March 20, 2024. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000120.htm.
  8. “Sleep and Chronic Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 13, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/aboutsleep/chronichtml.
  9. “Weight Loss and Alcohol.” MedlinePlus. N.D. Accessed March 20, 2024. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000889.htm.
  10. “Weight Gain: Unintentional.” MedlinePlus. N.D. Accessed March 20, 2024. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003084.htm.
  11. Ruiz-Ojeda, Francisco Javier, Julio Plaza-Díaz, Maria Jose Sáez-Lara, and Angel Gil. “Effects of Sweeteners on the Gut Microbiota: A Review of Experimental Studies and Clinical Trials.” Advances in Nutrition 10 (January 2019). https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmy037.
  12. Paré, Pierre, and Richard N Fedorak. “Systematic Review of Stimulant and Nonstimulant Laxatives for the Treatment of Functional Constipation.” Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 28, no. 10 (2014): 549–57. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/631740.
  13. “Magnesium Citrate.” MedlinePlus. N.D. Accessed March 20, 2024. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a619019.html.

The information featured in this site is general in nature. The site provides health information designed to complement your personal health management. It does not provide medical advice or health services and is not meant to replace professional advice or imply coverage of specific clinical services or products. The inclusion of links to other web sites does not imply any endorsement of the material on such websites.

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