Is Constipation Tied To Heart Disease Risk? Here’s What Experts Say.
You’ve probably considered what constipation means for your stomach health and diet choices, but you may not have considered how ― or if ― it could impact your heart health.
As it turns out, some research suggests that constipation is associated with an increased risk of heart attack. Coverage of this data may seem concerning. At least 2.5 million people annually in the United States visit their doctor for constipation, according to the Cleveland Clinic ― does this mean our bathroom problems might be more serious?
Before you panic, experts have a lot to clear up on the topic. Here’s what they think about the link between the two issues, and what else to know about them:
The Relationship Between Bowel Movements And Heart Problems
“If you said to me, ‘Oh, someone’s constipated, they’re going to have a heart attack’ … I would probably tell you that I don’t think there’s enough evidence for that,” explained Dr. Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health in Denver.
You can find a correlation between constipation and heart attacks in research, but evidence of causation does not currently exist, Freeman noted. In other words, nobody can definitively say that constipation puts one at risk of heart attack.
For example, the authors of a study published in Scientific Reports in July found an association between constipation and risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack. But study volunteers were not being evaluated for constipation. The participants were actually in the hospital for other reasons, noted Dr. Anum Saeed, a cardiologist at UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute in Pittsburgh.
“Is this something that is because they have [certain] lifestyle habits? Or do they have other risk factors that are causing the increased risk for cardiovascular disease?” Saeed said. “Can we directly say that, yes, it’s the constipation? We cannot answer that question with these studies.”
She added, “This is just an association, just a small signal that needs proper research studies to follow and see if the signal is real or not.”
What Your Constipation Might Say About Your Overall Health
“I guess the way I would look at it is, overall body health and gut health … are highly linked to a whole variety of different health outcomes,” Freeman said.
If you’re a person who isn’t getting much exercise and is eating highly processed foods, you likely won’t be pooping often. These are also risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
So, it may not be the lack of bowel movements that is the issue; instead, it could be the lifestyle habits that cause those problems, Freeman noted.
That said, straining during constipation may be risky for certain folks. Some research noted that straining during constipation can be a cardiovascular risk, and that’s not wrong, Freeman explained.
“When people are straining, they can really raise their blood pressure,” said Freeman. “And you can imagine that if you’re a relatively old or frail person, and you’re constipated and really straining with a bowel movement, your blood pressure could spike by 50, 60, 70 points, which could be enough to actually do damage in some cases.”
Take Care Of Your Heart And Gut
While you can’t change your genetic risk factors for heart disease ― such as a disposition to high cholesterol or a family history of heart attacks ― certain lifestyle behaviors are within your control, Saeed noted.
These include managing your weight, following a nutritious diet like the Mediterranean diet, controlling and monitoring high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and not smoking, she said, as well as getting enough sleep. (The American Heart Association recommends seven to nine hours of rest each night for adults.)
Each week, you should also aim to get at least 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise and 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, Saeed said.
In addition to following a regular exercise routine, it’s important to consume fiber-rich foods (like beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables) and drink plenty of water to keep constipation at bay, according to the Cleveland Clinic. You should also manage things like stress, anxiety and depression, which can impact your gut health as well, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Not only will these behaviors help maintain your heart and gut health, but they will have a positive impact on your body overall.