As someone who has suffered from irritable bowel syndrome since I was in my early 20’s, I have experienced my fair share of back-ups in the poop department. In fact, when my IBS is flaring up, I alternate pretty consistently between abysmally gut-wrenching diarrhea, followed by many days of constipation and painful bloating.
Constipation is the absolute worst. And anyone who has experienced it chronically will know that I am not exaggerating in the least. My bloating can get so bad at times that I look like I’m six months pregnant, no joke. And I have often gone almost a week without pooing.
But even when things aren’t that extreme, because I have a very “sensitive” system, I am just prone to being backed up very easily. Like many women, there are several times of the month when I seem to be more likely to be constipated. Ovulation and the week before my period will do it for me, which basically amounts to roughly half the month. Being a woman is lovely, isn’t it?
Not only that, but slight changes in my routine can bring my bowels to a screeching halt. If I sleep too late one day, I’m likely to be screwed. Not being home during the morning (when I am most likely to go) tends to back me up, since I’m not one to easily “open up” when I am in a less familiar setting.
And don’t even get me started about “vacation constipation.” I have been known to hold my nuggets in for the entire duration of a trip, only to spill the beans once I get home. I think my record was about 8 days once. I kid you not.
It sounds kind of like I’m a freak of nature, right? But constipation is actually super-duper common, especially among women. A study from the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology cited evidence that constipation affects upward of 27% of the population at times. And there is strong evidence that constipation affects women disproportionally, with some studies showing that women are more than twice as likely as men to suffer from a backed-up butt canal.
Although it was hard to find the exact reasons why women are more likely to be “fecally challenged” than men, there are definitely some theories out there, none of which surprised me. “The exact mechanisms for this sex difference are not fully understood,” explains the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology. “[B]ut accumulating evidence points to female sex hormones.”
To which all of us perpetually-hormonally-charged females shout: No duh!
And if you think experiencing chronic constipation is no big deal, think again. Side effects of stuck poop can include anything from hemorrhoids and anal fissures to bowel blockages and rectal prolapses (which I will admit to being the proud owner of).
But even without anything quite this extreme happening, having shit stuck in your rectum can make you crabby AF. When I have been constipated for a few days, I feel like my whole body’s energy is off. Everything feels tight and I feel myself locking my jaw, scrunching up my shoulders, and just generally feeling tense. I feel lethargic and my appetite is low (who the hell wants to put anything back in when nothing is going out?).
And forget about sex or doing anything “down there.” When my shit is literally punching me from inside my ass, that kind of thing is totally out of the question (sorry, honey).
What strikes me most about constipation, though, is how little people discuss it. In fact, according to the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, only a small portion of people suffering from constipation actually talk to their doctors about it. Obviously, it’s not a topic that is comfortable for everyone to yammer on about, but it’s the kind of thing that once you know you are not alone, you can start to feel a little better about it.
Additionally, you should know that help is out there. Since I got help for my IBS a few years ago, my episodes of constipation have drastically decreased. I don’t think there is one cure-all for constipation or for bowel issues in general. But for me, dietary changes (I had to cut out dairy and adopt a diet called the low-FODMAP diet) and lifestyle changes (meditation, consistent sleep routines) were the golden ticket.
The bottom line is that constipation totally sucks, but you are not alone. You are not broken, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Most of all, this poo shall pass (sorry, couldn’t resist). You deserve to feel well and better—but most of all, poop-free.