Travel Constipation – Causes, Remedies and Treatment

Constipation may be a problem most of the time for some people (chronic), while others only experience it every now and then (acute). Foods, beverages, diseases, inactivity and even change of environment or stress can contribute to acute constipation. It may last only for a week or two and then ease on its own. However, even these short periods of constipation can be distressing and uncomfortable although it usually does not cause any serious problems.

Why does constipation occur?

The exact reason why constipation occurs is not always understood. However, there are three reasons why it may arise:

  1. Unknown causes despite normal bowel activity but may be linked to low fiber intake and insufficient water consumption.
  2. Slower than normal movement through the bowels despite the lack of any diseases that causes a weakness/paralysis of the bowel muscles.
  3. Problems with the pelvic floor or anal sphincter muscles which may hamper the movement of stool out of the bowels.

In the instances above, the constipation does not arise due to any disease and is referred to as primary constipation. The term idiopathic constipation means constipation due to unknown reasons. Constipation is a symptom that can occur in a number of different diseases. This is known as secondary constipation.

Read more on easy bowel movement.

Causes of Travel Constipation

The causes of travel constipation can be varied. It may an exacerbation of pre-existing constipation. However, it is not uncommon for constipation to occur when traveling despite there being no history of constipation. Most of the time this acute constipation when traveling is not serious. Nevertheless, it should be assessed by a medical professional and treated accordingly when necessary.

Environment

A change in environment can affect bowel habit. Some people are accustomed to only having a bowel movement within familiar surroundings and specifically within their own home. Being in an unfamiliar setting coupled with the inconvenience of using public facilities, like when traveling on a plane, can have a psychological effect which may in turn impact on bowel habit.

Circadian Rhythm

Traveling across time zones can affect the circadian rhythm. This is the body’s internal clock that works on a 24 hour cycle. For certain people, their bowel habit is very time dependent. In other words, a bowel movement happens around the same time everyday. However, the change in time zones can disturb the circadian rhythm and in turn affect the timing of a bowel movement. This disturbance is also the reason that many people feel jet lagged.

Dehydration

Inadequate water intake is a leading cause of constipation. Less water in the stool means that it has less bulk and becomes dry and hard. This makes it difficult to pass out stool. A person may intentionally or unintentionally reduce their fluid intake when traveling or at a destination away from familiar surroundings.

One of the examples when fluid intake is intentionally reduced is when travelers want to avoid urinating. However, at other times the travel may be distracting and a person may not realize that they have reduced their fluid intake. Hotter environments and greater physical activity can also hasten water loss and lead to dehydration.

Fiber

Insufficient fiber intake is another major contributing factor in constipation. Fiber is indigestible and mixes with undigested food and wastes to form stool. The fiber absorbs water to bulk up stool and make it soft. During travel, a person may consume less fiber due to changes in diet that tends to arise with being away from the home environment. A tendency to consume fast foods which are often in fiber is one such instance of low fiber intake while traveling.

Foods and Beverages

Apart from reduced dietary fiber intake, a change in diet with the consumption of otherwise unusual foods can also affect bowel activity and lead to constipation. Fast foods, new cuisines and irregular eating habits are not uncommon while traveling and can therefore affect normal bowel habit.

Similarly the change in beverages may also contribute to constipation apart from insufficient water intake. Alcoholic drinks and caffeinated beverages can cause dehydration. These substances are diuretics and lead to increased urination which may then result in dehydration and in turn contribute to diarrhea.

Anxiety and Stress

Traveling can be stressful in various ways. Delays, tight schedules and prolonged periods in cramped surroundings are some of the reasons why a person may feel anxious and stressed while traveling. Furthermore being out of familiar surroundings may also cause stress and anxiety in some people even during a vacation. This can affect bowel habit and lead to constipation.

Medication

A number of different drugs can cause constipation, usually as a side effect. It is not uncommon for some travelers to use antidiarrheal agents to prevent having a bowel movement in inconvenient settings like during a flight. These drugs when used in excess may cause constipation. However, other drugs that may be used when traveling such as motion sickness pills (anti-emetic agents) and tranquilizers or sedatives may also cause constipation as a side effect.

Remedies for Constipation When Traveling

These simple dietary and lifestyle remedies can be used for constipation in any situation.  Some of these remedies should be used with caution when traveling as most people want to avoid the other extreme of diarrhea.

  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day and more if possible. Higher water intake is particularly necessary when in hot environments and during travel where there physical exertion is necessary.
  • Opt for high fiber meals such as bran cereal. Do not overdo the fiber or use fiber supplements as it can sometimes increase the number and frequency of bowel movements.
  • Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol intake. Small quantities may not be a problem but in large amounts these substances can cause significant dehydration.
  • Do mild exercises or take long walks to help stimulate a bowel movement. Avoid strenuous physical activity which can be tiring and also contribute to water loss.

Read more on constipation diet.

Treatment for Travel Constipation

Dietary and lifestyle remedies should be the first option. If it fails to relieve the constipation then medical treatment may be necessary. Constipation should be assessed and treated by a medical professional. In the short term, constipation usually does not pose any significant risk to bowel health although accompanying symptoms may be uncomfortable. Howver, prolonged and severe constipatio can lead to complications like fecal impaction.

Apart from fiber supplements, there are several drugs that can be used for constipation. These drugs should be used with caution. For example, commonly used medication like laxatives may trigger a bowel movement but when used n excess then it may lead to diarrhea. Therefore if the constipation is not prolonged or severe, treatment may only be considered once a person is in familiar and comfortable surroundings.

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