Experiencing a headache and constipation simultaneously may more often lead one to think that their constipation has led to a splitting headache; a constipation headache. While this may be the case, it is also possible that both of these symptoms may be the side effects of another underlying condition.
Headaches and constipations are considered two separate entities that can be presenting symptoms of another disorder. However, they can occur on their own, having their own criteria for diagnosis and specific treatment modalities. When occurring separately, there is usually little cause for concern, but if occurring together and frequently, it may signal an underlying chronic condition.
There are several types of a headache, all with varying presentations, from sharp and throbbing on one side of the head, to having both sides affected, severely limiting the overall quality of life. Examples include migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches.
To be considered as constipated, one must have less than three bowel movements a week. Your stools may be hard and difficult to pass as a result of prolonged duration in the intestines. One may also have the sensation of not finishing a bowel movement, and that the rectum feels that it is still full.
Several underlying conditions that affect the body as a whole may lead to the symptoms of a headache and constipation together. The following are such conditions:
Dehydration. When inadequate levels of fluid are consumed, it leads to dehydration. This can subsequently lead the body to attempt to hold on to any remaining water left. If your fluid level is not replaced promptly, you may end up with both constipation and headaches, as adequate amounts of water are required to soften stool and ensure proper blood flow to the brain. A state of dehydration may also lead to the increased production of histamines, which are chemicals that cause pain in the human body, possibly contributing to headaches.
Stress. Chronic levels of stress, perhaps due to fears, uncertainties, despair, or mental strain, can lead to many physical symptoms, from digestive problems including diarrhea, to headaches.
Hormonal imbalances. Especially prevalent in women of childbearing age who go through menstruation. During this period, many hormones are in flux as the uterine lining proliferates in response to a surge of estrogen hormones. Pregnant women can also experience frequent bouts of headaches and constipations as well.
Toxins. Our stool is considered to be waste by the body, as it contains everything the body doesn’t need. It also has a host of bacteria and toxins that when stationary during periods of constipation may lead to the release of toxins into the system.
Possible conditions that may lead to headaches and constipation presenting together include:
Fibromyalgia. A condition characterized by muscle aches and pain, joint pain, and fatigue, but there are many other symptoms that may lead to the development of constipation and headaches. It is estimated that up to 70 percent of people with fibromyalgia have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), with headaches being present in almost half.
Mood disorders. Feelings of anxiety and depression are considered psychological stressors and may trigger episodes of headache and constipation.
Chronic fatigue syndrome. Characterized by unrelenting fatigue and lethargy, this condition can be quite debilitating, as those affected do not feel they have sufficient energy, and they can’t get better even with adequate rest. Symptoms of headache and constipation are common in these patients.
Celiac disease. An autoimmune disorder that results in an intolerance to gluten. If one with this disease consumes foods rich in gluten, headaches and constipation may be the resulting symptoms.
Displaced uterus and ovaries. This occurs when the uterus and ovaries press up against the rectum, causing constipation and headache. Other symptoms include painful menstruation and lower abdominal pain.
Fructose malabsorption. Triggered by food containing high fructose levels, sorbitol, and certain types of fiber.
Intestinal parasites. Often ingested with contaminated food or water, parasites can infect the body, leading to headaches and constipation, among other symptoms.
Anorexia nervosa. This is considered a psychiatric disorder in which the one affected rejects food due to low self-esteem. It can lead to lower-than-normal body weight, fatigue, constipation, and headaches.
Hypothyroidism. Decreased production of thyroid hormone can lead to constipation and headache, along with cold intolerance, weight gain, and fatigue.
Pituitary tumor. A tumor of the pituitary gland may lead to the increased frequency of headaches and constipation.
Lead poisoning. Commonly seen in children that consume paint from old houses or toys, it may lead to symptoms of headaches and constipation. Long-term complications include growth and nerve disorders.
Pinpointing what exactly is causing your specific case of headaches and constipation may be difficult for your doctor, as there is a multitude of causes. Instead, they may simply choose to treat the presenting symptoms and hope that the underlying cause resolves itself. Your doctor will most likely review your full medical history in an attempt to determine why you may be presenting symptoms of headache and constipation.
If you’ve been experiencing headaches and constipation for a long period of time, you may require various imaging tests to see what exactly is going in your body.
Treatment will often depend on the underlying cause of your headache and constipation. For example, if it is due to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a high-fiber diet with plenty of fluids will help. If celiac disease is to blame, avoiding all foods containing gluten should successfully remedy your symptoms. If fibromyalgia is found to be the cause, pain medication, therapy, and gentle exercise may help relieve the symptoms of headache and constipation.
Most doctors will stress prevention as the best method of reducing the frequency of headaches and constipation. This comes in the form of eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and properly managing stress. Following a diet rich in fiber may prevent constipation, meaning lots of fresh fruit, whole grains, and legumes. Drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration is a great way to reduce the frequency of headaches and constipation. Recognizing stress triggers also helps in avoiding headaches, as well as constipation that may occur as a result.
Related: Natural homemade cures for headaches