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Constipation, Chronic

Constipation in a young child as seen on X-ray. Lowest circle shows hard feces in the pelvis. Source, James Heilman, MD.

What Is Chronic Constipation?

Chronic constipation is an intestinal motility disorder characterized by abnormal stool formation, consistency, and evacuation.

Motility disorder means the normal rhythmic movement of intestinal muscles, called peristalsis, that moves food matter through the gut is hampered or dysfunctional.

Studies show that methane gas present in the colon induces constipation by delaying transit time, which is the time it takes for stool to pass through the colon.

Researchers investigating the relationship between methane and constipation found that methane positivity was detected in 75% of patients with slow transit, 44% of patients with normal transit and and 28% of the patients who were controls. However, methane positivity was not related with stool consistency.1

Other researchers investigating the total amount of methane produced found that there was significantly more methane production in patients with constipation (21.1 ppm vs. 6.1 ppm, respectively) than in controls without constipation.2

Q. How does methane get into the colon?

A. Methane is produced in the colon by intestinal methanogens (microbes) that metabolize hydrogen, one of the end products of normal anaerobic (meaning without oxygen) bacterial fermentation.  Fermentation of the undigested starchy part of carbohydrates produces hydrogen in the intestine which is the substrate (food) for methane production by intestinal methanogens.

Hydrogen and methane are excreted in the flatus and in breath giving the opportunity to indirectly measure their production using breath testing. Methane is detected in 30%-50% of the healthy adult population worldwide.3

Other common causes of constipation include not getting enough exercise, not drinking enough fluids, not eating enough fiber in the diet, not eating foods that supply microbes needed by the colon (probiotics), not eating foods that nourish the good microbe population (prebiotics) and supply minerals needed for healthy movement of stool, and food sensitivities. Too much cows milk is a common cause of stool that forms into balls.

Who is Affected in the General Population? Chronic constipation is a remarkably common and costly condition that can negatively impact the quality of life and result in a major social and economic burden. Based on the definition, either self-reported or using Rome criteria, chronic constipation can affect up to 27% of the population. There is strong evidence that constipation occurs more frequently in women.4

What Is Chronic Constipation In Celiac Disease and/or Gluten Sensitivity?


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  1. Triantafyllou K, Chang C, Pimentel M. Methanogens, Methane and Gastrointestinal Motility. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2014 Jan;20(1):31-40. Epub 2013 Dec 30. 

  2. Triantafyllou K, Chang C, Pimentel M. Methanogens, Methane and Gastrointestinal Motility. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2014 Jan;20(1):31-40. Epub 2013 Dec 30. 

  3. Triantafyllou K, Chang C, Pimentel M. Methanogens, Methane and Gastrointestinal Motility. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2014 Jan;20(1):31-40. Epub 2013 Dec 30. 

  4. Sanchez MI, Bercik P. Epidemiology and burden of chronic constipation. Can J Gastroenterol. 2011 Oct;25 Suppl B:11B-15B.