More than half of individuals with Parkinson’s have trouble with constipation. Constipation may even begin before the movement symptoms are noticeable. One study showed that men with constipation had an increase risk of developing Parkinson’s disease[i]. This may in part be related to changes in the health and function of nerve cells in the intestinal wall that control gut motility. Other gastrointestinal problems include bloating, gas, nausea, decreased appetite, heartburn or acid reflux, and early fullness. Severe constipation can affect how some of your medicines are absorbed.
Constipation is caused by slow movement of digested food through the intestine. Weak abdominal wall muscles, pelvic and sphincter muscle dystonia can also cause problems with elimination.
For some it is a minor nuisance well controlled by change in diet and activity. For others it can be a serious problem causing discomfort, use of stool softeners and other bowel supplements. The number of bowel movements per week will vary for different people and it is important to know that not everyone has a bowel movement every day. Severe constipation, left untreated, can cause colon obstruction, dilation and in rare cases perforation. What is important is to seek help if you have a change in your bowel routine or habit and if you are experiencing discomfort.
Constipation is treatable with the use of stool softeners, fiber, increased fluids, exercise and eating smaller more frequent meals. Finding a routine and regiment that keeps you regular is better than waiting until you have a problem that needs immediate attention. Since some medications can worsen constipation, review your medications with your provider to eliminate any un-necessary constipating medications. It is also important to establish a bowel routine, such as scheduling a specific time for this function daily.
See related articles on treatment of constipation and other nonmotor symptoms or problems.
[i] Abott, R., et al., Frequency of bowel movements and the future risk of Parkinson's disease. 2001.