Constipation after quitting smoking happens relatively often. It can occur as nicotine promotes fecal movement through the intestinal tract, withdrawal from it can result in difficulty with bowel movements.

Although constipation is a frequent symptom of nicotine withdrawal, other factors associated with quitting smoking can play a role. These factors include diet concerns, lack of exercise, and increased stress.

Symptoms of constipation include stools that are dry, lumpy, and hard to pass.

This article discusses the factors that relate to constipation after quitting smoking, as well as treatment and when to call a doctor. It also examines other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, the benefits of quitting smoking, and ways to quit smoking.

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Constipation after quitting smoking is one of the symptoms that occur when adjusting to the lack of nicotine, the main ingredient in cigarette smoke. Other factors associated with quitting may also contribute to constipation.

Nicotine withdrawals and constipation

Nicotine mostly has wide-ranging negative effects on the body. For this reason, when a person quits smoking, they are likely to experience various symptoms while adjusting to the sudden absence of nicotine. This time of adjustment is known as nicotine withdrawal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nicotine withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • intense or mild cravings to smoke
  • feeling grumpy or irritated
  • feeling restless or jumpy
  • depression and anxiety
  • inability to concentrate
  • trouble sleeping

Nicotine helps foster regular bowel movements because it mimics the action of the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that promotes digestion.

It stimulates peristalsis, the intestinal movements that propel the contents forward. Due to this action, having a cigarette can be an effective means of relieving constipation.

Read more about nicotine.

Diet changes

Dietary changes can occur after quitting smoking.

In the absence of cigarettes, people may turn to food to reward themselves or have something to do with their hands and mouth. Additionally, after smoking, the appetite may increase, which makes food more enjoyable.

These effects can play a role in constipation because individuals may gravitate toward sweet and fatty foods. These choices may be low in fiber, the dietary constituent that promotes regular bowel movements. It may help to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Activity level changes

After quitting smoking, some people may experience tiredness, according to experts. This may reduce the motivation to get regular exercise, even in those who usually engage in regular workouts. While this is understandable, it may contribute to constipation.

It is important to exercise throughout nicotine withdrawal. A 2017 study found that physical activity speeds up peristalsis and can help prevent and relieve constipation. Exercise may help relieve other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal also.

Stress level changes

Quitting smoking causes cravings for nicotine, which may feel stressful. Other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, such as anxiety, also have to do with stress.

This can worsen constipation because the hormones released during stress can slow intestinal movement and increase inflammation. With this in mind, it is beneficial to find ways to reduce stress during this time.

Read more about the effects of smoking.

Symptoms of constipation include:

  • fewer than three bowel movements per week
  • stools that are difficult to pass
  • stools that are dry, lumpy, or hard
  • a feeling that not all the stool has passed

Read more about constipation.

Common nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • anger
  • frustration
  • irritability
  • nicotine cravings
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • difficulty concentrating
  • hunger
  • depression
  • restlessness

Read more about what happens when you quit smoking.

Treatment for constipation may include lifestyle changes and medication.

Lifestyle changes

These include:

  • drinking plenty of water and other liquids
  • eating more fiber-rich foods
  • getting regular exercise


Medications for constipation can include:

  • fiber supplements such as Citrucel, FiberCon, or Metamucil
  • stool softeners such as Colace and Docusate
  • prescription medications such as lubiprostone, which increases fluid in your digestive tract

The benefits start within a few minutes and increase over time. The American Lung Association offers the below timeline of benefits:

Length of time after quittingHealth benefits
20 minutesThe heart rate decreases to standard.
12–24 hoursThe risk of a heart attack lowers significantly, and blood carbon monoxide levels decline to standard.
2 weeks to 3 monthsLung function begins to increase, and the risk of heart attacks decreases further.
1–9 monthsShortness of breath and coughing reduce.
1 year The added likelihood of heart artery disease is 50% less than that of a smoker.
5 yearsThe risk of cancers of the esophagus, throat, or mouth is 50% lower than that of a smoker. Also, stroke risk decreases to that of a nonsmoker.
10 yearsThe risk of cancers of the cervix, pancreas, kidneys, and larynx decreases. Also, the likelihood of death from lung cancer and the risk of developing bladder cancer is about 50% of that of a smoker.
15 yearsThe likelihood of heart artery disease drops to that of a nonsmoker.

A person can stop smoking with the help of a quitline, a quitSTART app, medications, or a combination.


These provide a coach who can create a tailored plan and offer motivation, encouragement, and tips. If someone needs quit-smoking medications, a coach can help them obtain these, too.

QuitSTART app

This is a free smartphone app that offers inspiration and individualized tips. It can help distract people from cravings and monitor their progress.

Stop smoking medications

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several options. Nicotine replacement therapy provides some of the nicotine a person would get from a cigarette. This is available in different forms, such as patches and lozenges.

There are two other medication options, bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix). Bupropion is a type of antidepressant that can reduce cravings, and varenicline reduces the enjoyment people get from nicotine.

Read our tips on ways to quit smoking.

Someone should contact a doctor if constipation symptoms do not disappear with self-care. Also, they should get medical attention right away if they experience any of the following:

  • vomiting
  • inability to pass gas
  • constant pain in the abdomen
  • lower back pain
  • blood in the stool
  • fever

If a person experiences constipation after quitting smoking, it may stem from nicotine withdrawal. However, the stress and changes in diet and physical activity that tend to occur during this time can also contribute to the issue.

Lifestyle changes — such as drinking plenty of water, eating a fiber-rich diet, and getting regular exercise — may help with constipation, but medications are available if necessary.

Other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include irritability, insomnia, and depression. Ways to quit may involve a quitline, a quitSTART app, medications, or a combination.

Quitting smoking is profoundly beneficial for health, so all efforts necessary for a successful outcome can really pay off.