The rest of us with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) don’t talk much about it. It is not exactly dinner table conversation. But I’m ready to tackle this taboo topic: constipation or rather, the lack of poop, and Parkinson’s.
Kathrynne Holden, MS, RD, Parkinson Nutrition Specialist, defines constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements per week. It occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. Going longer than three days without a bowel movement causes the stool to harden and become more difficult to pass. I meet the constipation criteria with twice-a-week-like-clockwork bowel movements.
So what’s the big deal about constipation? Granted, at first it can be uncomfortable and just a nuisance. But prolonged constipation can result in fecal impaction, a condition where dry, hard feces accumulate in the colon and cannot be passed. This can be very painful and may require hospitalization and possibly surgery.
There are several reasons why constipation occurs so frequently in PD patients. The PD meds often lead to constipation by slowing the movement of food through the GI track. The absorption of the PD meds can be slowed and benefits minimized due to constipation. Also, PD may cause some degeneration of the nerves of the GI track. In addition, few people drink enough fluids or eat enough fiber to combat constipation.
Tips on managing constipation can be found at the following question and answer forum from:
Q: I suffer from severe constipation as a result of my Parkinson medication. It is an ordeal for me. I’ve tried many over the counter remedies (milk of magnesia, suppositories, laxatives, etc.). Is there anything that might be easier on my system?
A: You are right to be concerned. Long-term use of suppositories and laxatives can actually worsen chronic constipation, so that a temporary problem becomes permanent; milk of magnesia can cause loss of important electrolytes over time.
Be sure that you are drinking enough fluids each day, at least 6-8 glasses, to help keep the stool soft. And be sure to get plenty of high-fiber foods, like whole-wheat bread and crackers, high-fiber cereals, and unprocessed vegetables and fruits. Try some prunes or prune juice once or twice a week. Prunes are a good source of fiber, and both prunes and their juice contain a natural laxative. Get as much exercise as you are able – walking is very good. Exercise seems to stimulate the colon and keep the stool moving along.
If none of these practices work, then you should talk to your doctor about safe, appropriate stool softeners and laxatives.