Constipation is the medical term for infrequent or hard-to-pass bowel movements. A person may have constipation if they have not had a bowel movement in 3 or more days, or if they need to strain very hard when they do have one.
Common underlying causes of both symptoms include not drinking enough water or eating enough of certain nutrients. In these instances, drinking more water and eating more fiber may help resolve the symptoms.
If constipation and headaches frequently occur together, it may be due to a long-term condition that requires medical treatment or lifestyle changes.
This article outlines some health conditions that could cause headaches and constipation, along with their associated treatment options.
The researchers assessed the medical records of 96 children who went to the hospital complaining of headache. Of these, 24 had constipation and received appropriate treatment. At a follow-up consultation, all 24 of those children showed improvements in both constipation and headache.
The study authors therefore conclude that successful treatment of constipation can improve headache — particularly tension-type headache. However, they could not determine whether constipation triggers headache or constipation and headache are both symptoms of the same underlying cause.
Often, both headaches and constipation develop as a result of not consuming enough fluids or having a balanced diet.
In these instances, taking in more fluid and eating more nutritious high fiber foods could help resolve both symptoms.
There are also several underlying conditions that may cause both constipation and headaches. A person with one of these conditions may experience the two symptoms at the same time. These conditions include:
Celiac disease is a type of autoimmune condition. People who have celiac disease experience intestinal inflammation and damage as a result of eating gluten. Gluten is a protein present in wheat and wheat products.
There are three types of celiac disease: classical, nonclassical, and silent.
Classical celiac disease is characterized by intestinal malabsorption. This refers to when the intestines become so damaged that they are unable to absorb enough nutrients from the diet. Some signs of intestinal malabsorption include:
- pale, foul-smelling, fatty stools
- unexpected weight loss
- stunted growth (in children)
A person with nonclassical celiac disease may experience mild gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as abdominal pain and bloating. They may also experience:
- a deficiency in folic acid and vitamin B-12
- elevated liver enzymes
- chronic migraine
- chronic fatigue
- tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands and feet
- reduced bone mass
- bone fractures
- dental enamel defects
- an itchy skin rash
- difficulty losing weight
- delayed onset of menstruation
- early menopause
Silent celiac disease is so-called because those who have it are unlikely to experience any symptoms. They may, however, experience improved health after adopting a gluten-free diet.
The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. This will allow the small intestine to heal, which should lead to a reduction in GI symptoms.
Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety can trigger tension headaches and GI issues.
Some additional symptoms of depression include:
- low mood
- feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or guilt
- loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
- difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- slowed movements and speech
- changes in appetite
- suicidal thoughts
There are also several types of anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is one of the most common. People with GAD experience persistent and excessive worry that interferes with their daily life.
They may also experience symptoms such as:
- increased heart rate
- rapid breathing
- difficulty concentrating
- muscle tension
- difficulty sleeping
- weakness or fatigue
- GI issues
A doctor may prescribe medications for people with depression or anxiety. However, these medications can take some time to work. People may also need to try several medications before finding a drug that works well for them.
People with either mood disorder may also benefit from talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain. Common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- tenderness to touch or pressure
- severe fatigue
- sleep problems
- memory problems
The most effective treatment for fibromyalgia is physical exercise. Aerobic exercise may be particularly effective.
People with fibromyalgia may also benefit from taking certain medications. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved the following three drugs for the treatment of fibromyalgia:
- duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- milnacipran (Savella)
- pregabalin (Lyrica)
People with fibromyalgia may also benefit from the following treatments:
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition that causes a person to feel overwhelmingly tired or fatigued. As a result, a person may have great difficulty carrying out normal daily activities.
CFS can cause headaches and, in some instances, constipation. Other symptoms may include:
- feeling tired even after sleep
- problems with memory or concentration
- muscle and joint pain
There is currently no cure for CFS. However, there are things a person can do to alleviate their symptoms. This may include spreading out activities that they know will drain them of energy. Certain supplements and relaxation therapies may also help.
The symptoms of CFS differ from one person to another. For this reason, a person should talk to their doctor about their specific symptoms and the possible treatment options.
Headaches and constipation can both be side effects of certain medications. Two medications that may cause these symptoms are opioids and statins.
A person should talk to their doctor if they develop constipation or headaches after starting a new medication.
If medication is the cause of both constipation and headaches, a doctor may lower the dosage. When possible, they may even prescribe an alternative medication.
If these options are not feasible, a doctor may prescribe medications to help alleviate the side effects.
In many cases, staying hydrated and eating a well-balanced diet that includes enough fiber can help prevent both headaches and constipation.
A doctor may offer advice on how to prevent flare-ups of a chronic underlying condition. Once a person begins treatment for the condition, the symptoms may clear up.
Some general tips for preventing constipation include:
- eating more fiber
- drinking plenty of water
- exercising as often as possible
Some foods that are high in fiber include:
- legumes, such as beans and peas
- vegetables, including artichokes and broccoli
- nuts and seeds
- whole grains
Constipation and headaches can sometimes occur together. In some cases, these symptoms may share the same underlying cause. This may be a lack of fluid or fiber.
However, there are also several health conditions that can cause both constipation and headaches. Treating the underlying condition can help alleviate these symptoms.
In some cases, constipation and headaches may occur as side effects of a medication. If this is the case, a doctor may lower the dosage of the medication or prescribe an alternative drug.
A person should see a healthcare provider if they experience persistent or recurrent constipation, headaches, or both.