What is the most common symptom in menopause? Constipation, caused by low level oestrogen that slows down gut function.
Women in Sport research found shame to be a significant factor in women not exercising in menopause. Add in the all-too-common bowel issues faced by women in menopause and the barriers become higher.
Pelvic organ prolapse and urinary symptoms are a well-known barrier to exercise, and often a reason why women see a women’s health specialist. Bowel leakage, constipation and urgency are a more silent problem and often most miserable, often not shared even with loved ones.
Brigitte Collins ‘Global Clinical Education Manager’ for MacGregor Healthcare Ltd smashed taboos and offered practical, empowering tips and guidance about menopausal bowel dysfunction in our webinar, Menopause Bowel Movements.
Q. How do bowel movements change going into the menopause?
A. The intestine is lined with oestrogen receptors. Oestrogen levels decline in menopause slowing down the working of the gut which can lead to constipation, straining to open bowels and prolapse. Conversely, anxiety levels rise due to increased Cortisol levels which speeds bowel movement function.
Q. What are the menopause bowel symptoms that are barriers to exercise?
A. Bowel problems continue to be a real taboo with women too embarrassed to get help.
- Bowel urgency where you rush to get to the toilet unable to hold and need to empty your bowels can be an intense experience with the added pressure of the fear of potentially having an accident. The fear can remain particularly around socialising and participating in exercise.
- Unpredictable or passive bowel leakage (our pelvic floor muscles become slacker as oestrogen decreases in menopause) is a further barrier to taking part in social activities or exercise. You might worry about the risk of leakage, causing an unwanted accident! We no longer have the plump muscles that have helped us to hold on previously, which also prevents the anal sphincter snapping closed like it used to.
- The good news is that as with any other muscle, the sphincter can be strengthened with the correct pelvic floor exercises, done 3 to 4 times a day.
- Constipation - the longer the stool is in the gut, the harder it becomes, making it difficult to pass. It starts to ferment, producing lots of uncontrollable gas, bloating the abdomen, increasing clothes size, making the prospect of exercise less likely.
Q. What is normal bowel emptying?
A. It’s easy to ignore the ‘call to stool’ when it comes, putting off going to the toilet and dealing with it later. Repeatedly ignoring the call reduces the feeling of needing to go.
Validated studies show normal bowel emptying can be anything from three times a day, to three times a week. The idea of the daily poo is a misconception. It’s very much down to the individual what normal is, so we shouldn’t get hung up on having a bowel movement every day. It’s important to get into a routine, to get that habit back again, it can be relearnt, but it will take time.
Q. How to do the perfect poo?
A. There are simple techniques that can be applied to ensure the bowel empties and stools don’t ‘pocket’ causing a constant need to go to the toilet. Use the Moo to Poo technique as shown here to find out more!
To find out more about improving bowel health, with the follow on webinar, 'Overcoming Bowel Problems During Menopause'