Resolving Hypothyroidism-Related Constipation

by Mary Shomon Patient Advocate

On television, they call it “regularity.” But as anyone who has experienced constipation knows, it’s about a lot more than being regular. Painful or difficult elimination, abdominal pain, bloating, and gas can all be symptoms of constipation.

The National Institutes of Health defines constipation as “a condition in which you have fewer than three bowel movements a week, or hard, dry and small bowel movements that are painful or difficult to pass.”

Lazy man napping on the couch.
iStock

What causes constipation?

There are a number of causes of constipation, including:

  • Untreated or insufficiently treated hypothyroidism
  • A low-fiber diet
  • Insufficient exercise
  • Dehydration
  • Other conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, gastrointestinal blockages, and pelvic disorders
  • Prescription medications and supplements
Pills and capsules in medical vial.
iStock

Medications and supplements that can cause constipation

Some of the medications and supplements that can cause constipation include:

  • Surgical anesthesia
  • Narcotic pain medications
  • Iron supplements
  • Antacids with aluminum or calcium
  • Anticonvulsant medication
  • Antispasmodic medications
  • Calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure and heart conditions
  • Diuretics for high blood pressure
  • Parkinson’s disease medications
Doctor examining a patient's thyroid.
iStock

Step 1: Optimize your thyroid treatment

If you are a thyroid patient experiencing constipation, your first step is to optimize your treatment, making sure your TSH, free thyroxine (free T4), and free triiodothyronine (free T3) are at levels that relieve thyroid symptoms. If your thyroid levels are in the normal range, but not optimal, changing your dosage of medication, adding a T3 medication, or switching to a natural desiccated thyroid drug may relieve your constipation.

Ingredients and products containing iron and dietary fiber.
iStock

Step 2: Increase your fiber intake from food

Adding more fiber to your diet is one of the most basic changes you can make to help relieve constipation. Focus on eating 20 to 30 grams of fiber daily, ideally from high-fiber foods, such as raw non-starchy vegetables, fresh fruits (apples, berries, and citrus are especially high in fiber), dried fruits like prunes, seeds (like high-fiber chia seeds), beans/legumes (split peas are a fiber powerhouse), and nuts. For more ideas, visit Dr. Oz’s list of 50 fiber-rich foods.

Dietary supplement capsules.
iStock

Step 3: Take fiber supplements

If you have trouble getting enough fiber from foods, consider adding a fiber supplement. One of the most effective and inexpensive forms of fiber is psyllium, which comes in a powder or in easy-to-take capsules. Psyllium is also found in the brand-name supplement Metamucil.

Other fiber supplements include:

  • Inulin: Found in the supplement Fiber Choice, inulin is a prebiotic fiber that helps feed good bacteria in your colon.
  • Methylcellulose: Found in the supplements Citrucel and SmartFiber, methylcellulose powder is dissolvable in cold liquids.
  • Wheat dextrin: Found in the supplement Benefiber, wheat dextrin dissolves in cold and hot liquids, and is not thickening.
Two people drinking water.
iStock

Step 4: Drink enough water

An important way to help relieve constipation is to drink enough water. Many experts recommend that you aim to drink half your body weight in ounces. So, if you weigh 160 pounds, you should drink 80 ounces of water per day. Start adding more water slowly, to allow your body to adjust (and prevent frequent trips to the restroom.) You can count drinks without caffeine such as herbal teas and seltzer towards your daily water total.

Seniors walking together in the park.
iStock

Step 5: Move/exercise

Getting enough movement each day is essential to help relieve constipation.Movement and exercise help speed up digestion, and the detoxifying effect may help with elimination. Build in movement — whether it’s formal exercise, walking, climbing stairs, cleaning, or other activity — into your routine each day. There is some evidence that regular yoga practice can help with constipation.

Various supplements.
iStock

Step 6: Try other supplements and over-the-counter remedies

A number of other over-the-counter nutritional supplements can help relieve constipation, including:

Therapist's hands pressing on female abdomen.
iStock

Step 7: Try osteopathic treatment

Research has shown that osteopathic manipulation by a trained doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) can be effective for constipation in some people, including children. You can learn more about the osteopathic approach to treating constipation in this article.

Toilet
iStock

Step 8: Try bowel retraining

Bowel retraining is a behavioral program that helps teach you how to establish or re-establish control over your bowels. For more information, the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders has a free downloadable PDF guide, titled Strategies for Establishing Bowel Control.

Doctor talking to patient.
iStock

Step 9: Talk to your doctor about over-the-counter remedies

Over-the-counter laxatives can be helpful for occasional use, but if you have chronic constipation, you should discuss any laxative use with your doctor. Some common over-the-counter laxatives include:

  • Magnesium (Milk of Magnesia)
  • Polyethylene glycol (Miralax)
  • Stool softeners: Docusate (Colace)
  • Oral stimulants: Bisacodyl (Dulcolax), Senna (Senokot)
  • Rectal suppositories

Laxatives can be habit-forming, and long-term use can have negative side effects, including pain and cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and electrolyte imbalances.

Medical prescription pills.
iStock

Step 10: Try prescription medications

If you have chronic constipation that doesn’t respond to other approaches, your doctor may prescribe a more powerful laxative drug. These include:

  • Linaclotide (Linzess)
  • Lactulose (Cephula, Chronulac, Constulose, Duphalac, Enulose)
  • Lubiprostone (Amitiza)
  • Plecanatide (Trulance)

Like over-the-counter laxatives, the prescription laxatives can cause a number of side effects, including stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, gas, and diarrhea.

Mary Shomon
Meet Our Writer
Mary Shomon

Mary Shomon is a patient advocate and New York Times bestselling author who empowers readers with information on thyroid and autoimmune disease, diabetes, weight loss and hormonal health from an integrative perspective. Mary has been a leading force advocating for more effective, patient-centered hormonal healthcare. Mary also co-stars in PBS’ Healthy Hormones TV series. Mary also serves on HealthCentral’s Health Advocates Advisory Board.