If you’ve noticed that you become more irregular—or even worse, don’t experience a bowel movement at all—while traveling, you’re not the only one. In fact, this is a pretty common occurrence. If you were to ask, “what causes constipation?”, travel is one reason that causes this digestive issue. Read on to learn more about what causes travel constipation, what you can do to avoid or prevent it, and how to treat it if you’re already mid-vacation and suffering. 

What Causes Constipation, Generally?

What causes the constipation you may experience several times a year, and what causes travel constipation may be different in nature, or they may not be, depending on your pre-travel health and habits. In order for the colon to push the waste your body has created through the colon and rectum, the stools must be soft. If they are not and remain in the colon too long, they can become hard, dry, and tough to pass. The two things your body needs most to be “regular” are adequate water intake and adequate fiber intake. Quite often, if you’re experiencing bouts of constipation that are not due to traveling, it can be traced back to one of these two things. Constipation can also be caused by:

  • A sedentary lifestyle (little to no exercise)
  • Pregnancy
  • Medications, such as antacids and opioids
  • Putting off having a bowel movement 

Constipation that isn’t easily relieved with over-the-counter treatments or that doesn’t go away on its own may indicate an underlying medical problem, such as intestinal obstruction, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease. If this occurs, you should consult your health provider immediately. 

Reasons for Constipation

Why Does Travel-related Constipation Occur?

Travel-related constipation occurs primarily because your body’s routine is thrown off. Depending on how long you’re traveling or on your mode of travel, you may be dehydrated or eating junk food on the go, which can wreak havoc on your stomach. Also, the way cabins are pressurized in airplanes (if you are flying) can make you bloated and constipated. Just like an overall sedentary lifestyle contributes to regular bouts of constipation, it contributes to travelers’ constipation as well. Whether you’re flying, are traveling by car, or by train or bus, chances are you’re not moving much during traveling. In fact, you may even be holding it in (because who wants to stop in the middle of a road trip or go on an airplane)? However, both of these can contribute to travelers’ constipation. Other things that can contribute to travel constipation include:

  • Trying new and different cuisines 
  • Being on a different schedule 
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Sleep disruptions

While it can sometimes be hard to control insomnia and stress levels, especially while on vacation if you’re able to get things like this under control, you may be able to relieve some of your constipation symptoms.

What Are Constipation Symptoms?

Everyone’s regularity is a bit different, and some patients have a bowel movement every three days, which would be regarded as regular, while others have several a day, and this would also be considered regular. However, if you go more than three days without a bowel movement, this is usually considered constipation. 

If you’re only traveling for a short time, you may not notice constipation symptoms set in until near the end of your journey, but it’s still important to treat them to try to raise your comfort level. Constipation symptoms include:

  • Passing hard, dry stools
  • Less than three bowel movements per week
  • Pain or straining during a bowel movement
  • Feeling full, even after having a bowel movement

If you experience more serious symptoms, such as blood in the stool, or pain in your side, let your doctor know immediately. 

How to Prevent Constipation

To prevent regular, everyday constipation, you should drink plenty of water, eat a diet that is rich with fiber-filled foods, exercise often, and take a probiotic. However, to prevent constipation when traveling, there are some more things to consider. When people are traveling, they tend to overdo it on caffeine or alcohol, or both. However, these are both dehydrating beverages and can lead to constipation, so be mindful of your consumption of both. Also, trying to steer clear of junk food while traveling is a must. 

No matter which method of travel you choose, get up every so often to move around if only to stretch your legs. If you’re traveling to a completely different time zone, try to prepare your body for it slowly so it’s not taken aback by the shock in routine. Lastly, try to keep your stress levels low if possible before and during travel. 

How to Relieve Constipation

If you’re already on the road and are looking for constipation relief, there are a few options. The most rudimentary of home remedies would be getting up, getting your body moving, and ensuring that you’re fully hydrated, eliminating caffeine and alcohol from your diet while traveling. 

However, if you’re already in pain, this just isn’t feasible for many. A stool softener may be helpful, but if you are already straining, this also may not give you the results you need in the time frame you are looking for. Suppose you’re on the road and don’t have access to your physician, in lieu of going to an urgent care for advice. In that case, you’re probably going to have your choice of two types of over-the-counter laxatives: Osmotic and stimulant laxatives. It would be ideal to try osmotic laxatives first, as they have fewer side effects. Although they take slightly longer to work, the end result will not be as jolting when they do get your bowels moving again. Osmotics are brand names such as Metamucil, Milk of Magnesia, and Miralax. These work by helping your colon produce more fluid, which, often combined with stool softeners, enable you to gently push the stool without straining. These usually work within 12 to 24 hours of first taking them. 

Stimulant laxatives work differently in that they cause the intestines to have muscle contractions. These work more rapidly than osmotics (sometimes within 4 to 6 hours), however, it’s best to ensure you are close by a restroom when the laxatives begin to work, as the onset can be sudden. Brand-name stimulant laxatives include Ex-Lax and Dulcolax. These should not be used too often because they increase the risk of colon cancer. 

You can also use an enema or glycerin suppository to stimulate a bowel movement as a last resort, but over-the-counter laxatives typically work for most cases. If OTC laxatives do not work, you should consult a physician. The best thing to do when it comes to travel constipation is preventative care—be aware of your body and try to avoid travel constipation in the first place before you have to treat it with laxatives. 

Gastrointestinal Care in Needham, MA

To learn more about constipation and travel constipation or if you need to be seen by a physician, contact us at Needham Gastro today. We offer comprehensive gastrointestinal care to our patients, treating a wide variety of GI disorders and issues.