Constipation: The Embarrassing Hypothyroidism Symptom That May Save Lives

Constipation: The Embarrassing Hypothyroidism Symptom That May Save Lives

June 2003, New York City

“Dana, we recommend the first colonoscopy at age 50. You are only 33 years old. I highly doubt it is necessary. However given your father’s recent colon cancer diagnosis and your current symptoms, we will schedule your colonoscopy.’

“Dana, we will begin the procedure now, it shouldn’t take long.”

“Dana, we removed a large size colon polyp. Fortunately it is benign. I can’t believe the size of this polyp considering you are only 33 years old. I don’t know what would have happened if you had waited until age 50 for your first colonoscopy. Thank your father. He may have saved your life today.”

I would like to thank my father for encouraging me years ago to speak with my doctor about a topic that was too embarrassing to discuss – my lifelong constipation. My dad is no longer with us, but I know he is watching over me right now as I type this article. By sharing our story, we may save the life of a reader here today. Thank you Dad.

My Lifelong Constipation

Constipation is a taboo subject that no one likes to discuss. However it is a very real issue for hypothyroidism sufferers. In order to make real change at Hypothyroid Mom, we must discuss all the issues including the most embarrassing ones. So here it goes.

I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism following the birth of my first son in 2006, however I have really suffered from hypothyroidism symptoms ever since I was a baby. To tell you the truth, constipation has been an issue ever since I can remember. I even landed in the emergency room from severe constipation once during a vacation.

In 2003, my husband and I decided to take a trip of a lifetime to Asia visiting Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cambodia. It was an incredible trip. However like all vacations, constipation was an issue during this trip especially when I returned home. This particular time I found some blood when I used the toilet, not a great deal but enough to catch my attention. It went away and I almost passed it off as normal from the constipation.

My father had been diagnosed with colon cancer that year. He insisted I get myself checked out. I went to my doctor with my symptoms along with my family history of colon cancer. At that time I was only 33 years old.

“Dana, the blood you experienced in your stool was from an internal hemorrhoid. In addition to your colon polyp, you have diverticulosis, pouches in the wall of the colon. Your chronic constipation is a serious health issue that needs to be resolved.”

Hypothyroidism & Constipation

Have you ever checked the drugstore aisle for laxatives and stool softeners? Have you ever noticed how many products are on those shelves?

Constipation is one of the classic signs of hypothyroidism. Without enough thyroid hormone, many of the body’s functions slow down. Hypothyroidism slows the action of the digestive tract causing constipation. Muscles line the digestive tract including the small and large intestines. The muscles contract to move the stool through the intestine to the rectum. Hypothyroidism can weaken the contraction of these muscles causing the stool to move too slowly.

The Thyroid Federation International estimates there are up to 300 million thyroid sufferers worldwide, yet over half remain undiagnosed. With millions of undiagnosed hypothyroidism sufferers worldwide and millions more insufficiently treated, is it really any wonder why the shelves for constipation remedies are stocked so high?

Looking back I’ve suffered from hypothyroidism symptoms including chronic constipation ever since I can remember. When I landed in the emergency room during a vacation from severe constipation, my thyroid was NOT tested. Even when my colon polyp was discovered in 2003, my thyroid was NOT tested. It took landing in the emergency room after my first son was born with excruciatingly painful kidney stones in 2006 to finally receive my hypothyroidism diagnosis.

Are you reading this article right now and suffer from constipation but you’ve never had your thyroid tested? Please get tested.

It wasn’t until I found a great thyroid doctor who listened to my symptoms and worked with me to find optimal treatment that I was finally on the road to overcoming the constipation that had plagued me my whole life. I knew the time had come to open up about my constipation and share with my doctor exactly what was happening. I am so happy I did.

How I Reversed My Constipation

We are each unique in how our bodies react to different substances. Consult with your doctor before trying any supplements mentioned at Hypothyroid Mom to be sure they are right for you and to determine the ideal dosage for you.

Optimal Thyroid Treatment

In mainstream medicine Levothyroxine drugs are the gold standard for the treatment of hypothyroidism. While these drugs work for some, for many they fail to relieve symptoms. Levothyroxine drugs contain T4 thyroid hormone only. Our bodies are supposed to convert that T4 thyroid hormone to the active T3 hormone our cells need. For many of us our bodies don’t convert T4 to T3 properly, leaving us symptomatic. Many of us do better on a combination of T4 and T3 thyroid hormone replacement treatment.

It wasn’t until I found a great doctor open to exploring the thyroid drug options to find what was right for me that my constipation began improving. It wasn’t a quick fix. For me it took about 6 months to reach optimal. My doctor did comprehensive thyroid testing including TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies. My doctor prescribed natural desiccated thyroid and it changed my life. She retested my levels regularly in the beginning and increased my dosage each time until one day I felt incredible. All my hypothyroidism symptoms had improved including my life-long constipation. I felt so good I cried.

If you are reading this article right now and you suffer from chronic constipation but you’ve never been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, please get your thyroid properly tested. If you are being treated with thyroid medication but you still suffer from common symptoms like constipation, take a closer look at whether you are being optimally treated.

Finding a doctor open to comprehensive thyroid testing and thyroid treatment options is key. Sadly not all doctors are open to the options and it can be a very frustrating journey. I’ve put together resources to help readers locate great thyroid doctors across the globe.

Fiber-Rich Foods

A diet too low in fiber was also to blame for my sluggish digestive tract. While I included fiber-rich foods to my diet, I realized that I wasn’t consuming enough. The average adult needs between 20 and 35 grams of fiber a day to ward off constipation. To avoid bloating and cramping, I increased my fiber intake gradually and made sure to drink plenty of fluids.

I had no idea how many delicious high fiber foods there were to eat.

Gluten-Free

When I first started reading about the connection between gluten and thyroid, I was reluctant to make the switch. I grew up with my Italian mom who makes the best pasta on the planet, so you can imagine the idea of going gluten-free was not easy for me. However once I gave it a try and noticed not only my constipation improving but also my other hypothyroidism symptoms, I was hooked.

Eliminate Dairy

In my research, I’ve read about the connection between dairy and constipation. I decided to give dairy-free a try. While this did not have a significant effect on my constipation, I still included it here in this article especially given all the food sensitivities and intolerances that I hear about from Hypothyroid Mom readers. We’re all different in terms of what works best for us, so it’s well worth a try.

Healthy Oils

Omega-3 oils help lubricate the intestines so stool can move more easily through the colon. I increased the intake of fish oil by taking cod liver oil daily, careful to select mercury-free brands, and I’m amazed at how this has helped.

Healthy fats lubricate the intestines. Fiber-rich extra virgin coconut oil is another great option. Here is a brand that I use Viva Labs #1 Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live microbial organisms that are naturally present in the digestive tract. Beneficial bacteria are necessary to properly digest food and to absorb nutrients. I’ve added probiotic rich fermented foods to my diet. When you are looking for a good probiotic supplement, choose one that contains a mix of a number of different probiotic strains. I take a probiotic supplement from a brand called Bio-Kult Probiotic.

Warm Lemon Water

A few years back I had consultation services with an Ayurveda specialist in NYC. For constipation, she recommended drinking warm water with lemon in the morning. The warm water stimulates the muscles lining the intestinal walls to contract and keep the stool moving and lemons help flush out toxins.

Lemon juice alkalizes the body. Yes lemons are acidic outside the body, but inside the body they have an alkalizing effect. An alkaline body helps prevent disease and maintain wellness.

I take my thyroid medication with plain water first thing when I wake up. Then I wait at least an hour to have breakfast to ensure nothing interferes with the absorption of my medication. I have warm lemon water just before my breakfast. (I wait several hours after taking my thyroid meds to take other medications, supplements, and vitamins to ensure there is no interference with the thyroid hormone absorption.)

Magnesium

Magnesium has been a real life-changer for me. All the things that I’ve mentioned above have been helpful in improving my constipation. However the real change came when my doctor tested my magnesium and found it to be far below the normal range. Nutrient deficiencies including magnesium are a common issue for those of us with hypothyroidism and should be tested.

Magnesium is the relaxation mineral. Constipation is a common symptom of magnesium deficiency. Muscles line the digestive tract. Magnesium relaxes the muscles and helps the stool move more easily.

Other symptoms of low magnesium include

insomnia

irritability

anxiety

depression

restless leg syndrome

heart palpitations

poor heart health

Diabetes

brain fog

dizziness

PMS

kidney stones

ringing in the ears

muscle cramping

eye twitches

headaches

I struggled with eye twitching for over ten years. An eye exam showed my eyes were fine and yet I had the constant twitching. Guess what…my eye twitching (along with painful persistent headaches) went away once I started on magnesium.

Serum magnesium is the test routinely taken in the doctor’s office and in the hospital but this type of testing misses a large percentage of people with magnesium deficiency. Thankfully I have a doctor that tests my red blood cell magnesium levels called RBC Magnesium which tests the level of magnesium inside of the red blood cells. Have you had your RBC Magnesium level tested?

In order to gauge my dose of magnesium my doctor had me start at a low dose and work up until I experienced loose stools and then backed off slightly. She advised I take magnesium glycinate. There are many different magnesium supplements available in stores but not all of them are easily absorbed. Magnesium glycinate is one of the most absorbable forms of magnesium.

In addition to eating magnesium-rich foods, I take Pure Encapsulations Magnesium Glycinate every night before bed (it helps me sleep too). I also take baths with Dr Teal’s Epsom Salt and rub Magnesium Oil on my body (my doctor has me rub it on my legs) to increase my magnesium levels. I now go ‘number 2’ regularly every day. That’s a miracle for me.

For weeks I went back and forth on whether this was a topic that I wished to write about here on Hypothyroid Mom. It is very embarrassing to talk about my constipation and I hesitated about sharing it. However I hope that by writing about my personal experience, those of you suffering with constipation will see how important it is to discuss with your doctor. I am not saying that everyone will have colon polyps, hemorrhoids or diverticulosis from chronic constipation as happened to me or develop colon cancer, but an unresolved constipation issue could put your life at risk and should be discussed with your doctor.

By shining light on our symptoms, even the most embarrassing ones, we will CONQUER them!

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About Dana Trentini

I founded Hypothyroid Mom October 2012 in memory of the unborn baby I lost to hypothyroidism. Hypothyroid Mom is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for consulting your physician regarding medical advice pertaining to your health. Hypothyroid Mom includes affiliate links to favorite resources including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Connect with me on Google+

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing all this information. I’m resently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s
    Thank you so much for doing all of the research. It is such a gift to me.

  2. Thank you for sharing. It’s so important and helpful.

  3. Rayne stanton says:

    Its a very real problem in the US especially, made worse by hypothyroidism. I had my gallbladder removed which makes it harder to digest and absorb. I am anemic and iron supplements just add to my misery! Thanks for talking about it. I wish there was an easy answer. You are lucky you have a great doctor. I cannot find one who will give me the natural thyroid meds. Its so frustrating

    • Just be informed, most insurances don’t cover desiccated thyroid. Armour Thyroid has helped me the best, as i cannot convert levothyroxine to the active T3 hormone. I pay $21.14 a month for a 30 day supply of 60 mg tablets at my pharmacy, Target (CVS).

  4. Thank you so much for your article. I’m taking it to my doctor.

  5. Ellen Golden says:

    I have the constipation problem because I’m hypothyroid. I didn’t know for the longest time that that was what was causing it. I have found that many things – like magnesium (now making my own magnesium spray) and water containing foods, lot of water plus a thyroid medication help but still I can run into problems from eating dry foods, refined foods. I also take digestive enzymes with food and that helps. Coffee causes me to constipate! Not so much tea – green or black. I discovered a colon cleanse that I’m doing right now using this little lady’s (Mama Rosa) recipe I found on youtube – a Godsend. Because there’s a lot of old poop in the colon from being constipated for ages. I can’t believe what’s coming out and I am relieved at least I can improve the health of my colon from the affects of constipation. Thank you for this article! I’m going to check out the magnesium glycinate.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEDYcLNWAko

  6. Kathy M Miller says:

    This article was superb!

  7. Hi all,

    I’m hypothyroid and started natural Thyroid. I’m confused though-I had constipation before -but NOTHING like when my doctor upped the dose. It’s like my bowls have completely stopped. If I’d tell you what I took to go it would make your head pop off. My doc said that too much Thyroid can cause constipation-but I can’t confirm that anywhere and out of desperation and sheer exhaustion, I starting taking have of what I was taking just to see if that’s what made it worse. I mean my body won’t go even after 2 weeks and I feel horrible. I’m on a vegetarian, paleo, organic, no to low carb diet and drink plenty all day. Anyone think what my doc says is strange?

  8. Hi all,

    I’m hypothyroid and started natural Thyroid. I’m confused though-I had constipation before -but NOTHING like when my doctor upped the dose. It’s like my bowels have completely stopped. If I’d tell you what I took to go it would make your head pop off. My doc said that too much Thyroid can cause constipation-but I can’t confirm that anywhere and out of desperation and sheer exhaustion, I started taking half of what I was taking on, just to see if that’s what made it worse last June. I mean my body won’t go even after 2 weeks, and I feel horrible. I’m on a vegetarian, paleo, organic, no to low carb diet and drink plenty all day. Anyone think what my doc says is strange?

    • Stacie McRae says:

      Hi Kris,
      I’m so sorry to hear that you have a doctor, that would say something that would make you feel so confused but, don’t most of them do that very thing. And if you ask them to explain why something is so, or if you tell them that you don’t understand the reasoning of their statement, they look at you like you are 3 years old asking, “Why is the sky blue?” I was born with hypothyroidism so, I have had these types of conversations with many different physicians. Sometimes we have to do some of the work,(like you did) and then go back and explain what you have done or not done, to try and fix your problem. If the physician doesn’t take notice then, or gets up set because you took control of the situation, then maybe a NEW Dr. is in order. I still haven’t found the right Dr. for me, but I can’t give up, it’s my body and I know when something isn’t “normal”. Stick to your guns and research different types of solutions.

  9. Stacie McRae says:

    Hi Dana,
    Thank you for your story and this wonderful website of yours. I too, have always been irregular, and I did know that it was part of the hypothyroidism, but I have always tried to eat a fiber rich diet and I tried to walk everyday to help with the issue. But since I am looking HARD at 50, I have noticed that my constipation has been getting worse.
    Well on the 18th of this month, I got thrown a curve ball and I have never had this kind of pain in my whole. On the 18th of Feb. 2018, I got up to walk my dogs and start my day, but my body had other ideas. (I live in the country so walking my dogs is basically me just letting them go and run while I tag along behind for 30 min. or so.) But on this day my stomach said,” Nope, you take one more step and you are going to be taking a shower instead.” So I turned to go back in the house and I was going to take a shower. Needless to say, I stayed pretty close to the house all day and hope it was just a “bug” or maybe I ate something . But Monday morning, the 19th, the same thing happened, except my intestines started burning, like a radiating heat in my gut. I told my husband, that if it wasn’t better the next morning I would go see the Dr., (I mean I was pooping, may have been extremely messy, but I was doing something.) So that night the burning got worse, and there was a knot in my intestines, that was just not going away. So Tuesday, the 20th, I told my husband,” I need to go to the ER, something is REALLY not right.” (Now I have given birth to two children completely natural, only a local for the stitches. I tell you this only because, the pain I was in that Tuesday, was worse than having my two kids.) I got to the ER and they escorted me in almost immediately, they ran testes and they did a CAT scan of my GI tract. I had a partial blockage of my lower intestine. I was on a liquid diet for 4 days, and it was hospital food on top of that, lol, but eventually I was allowed to go home without having to do surgery and I was to stay on the liquid diet for the next week. It has been hard, but I was good and didn’t cheat, the very idea of having to go through this again had me scared straight. (Oh and Chicken broth for breakfast is AWFUL!!!)
    Now, I am looking for things to help me stay, regular and I knew that your site would definitely give me ideas to talk over with my Dr. next week. I also wanted to share my story so other women wouldn’t feel so… uptight, about talking to their physicians about constipation. I really wish I had, before this whole nightmarish experience had accord. I hope this helps someone.

    Thank you for your time,
    Stacie McRae

  10. Linda Wilson says:

    Thanks so much for your story. I have been hypothyroid since my mid 40’s. I am now 70. I went to my doctor and told him I thought I was hypothyroid and he laughed at me. He said I was gaining weight because I was overeating. I said I want you to test me. I have been a Weight Watcher since my 20’s and I can not lose weight on the weight watcher diet. Something is wrong. I had all of the hypothyroid signs, cold hands and feet, tired, dry skin, and constipation. I was right and have been on synthroid for 25 years. I have also been gluten and dairy free. In December, I rejoined Weight Watchers. Because dairy in the form of nonfat plain yogurt is free on the diet I started eating it and a lot of eggs. Now, my constipation is back. I am working hard to get back to my old self. This article is extremely helpful. I also take my thyroid medicine early in the morning with a full 8-16 ounces of water and wait an hour. But, in order to follow the diet I stopped eating oats for breakfast. I was trying to save points. That has been a big mistake. I am going back to oats for breakfast and also add the suggested warm lemon water. I already realized I needed to add the magnesium. I have gladly ditched the dairy. Your article is right on target. I also need to exercise every day. Walking is a big help in my staying healthy. Thanks so much for your article and your time in taking the time to write and help others.

  11. Thanks so much for your article. I too have an underactive thyroid. I have been on synthroid for about 30 years. Recently, I rejoined Weight Watchers and added dairy, nonfat yogurt, because it was free on the diet. That was a big mistake. I have ditched the dairy. I also stopped eating oats for breakfast. That was another big mistake. I need the morning fiber. I am so glad I found your article. Everything you have said is right on point. I too take my take my thyroid medication early in the morning on an empty stomach and wait an hour. Several times, since rejoining WW I didn’t do that and that was another big mistake. I have also realized I needed to add magnesium to my daily routine. Finally I stopped using olive oil for the diet and that was another big mistake. We need good fats in our diet. I will follow your suggestion about coconut oil. Thank you so much. I have lost twenty pounds, but now I need to lose wight the thyroid way.

  12. hi – Anyone have any suggestions for me? I have Graves disease and was severely huperthyroid causing a thyroid storm, had overdose of RAI to make sure my gland was dead, then became severely hyperthyroid. My TSH was 75 and I was so constipated that it gave me a rectal prolapse which caused anal mucous leakage. No matter what I took or ate, nothing helped me go to the bathroom. When my TSH went down to 13 on a higher dose of Levoxyl I was still constipated butkind of managable. Now that I am considered “in range” but still have many hypo and some hyper symptoms??, I have started to have looser BMs which is not good for my prolapse and I have mostly been eating the RAT diet along with a few cautiously eaten foods. I am just hoping that the severe constipation did not cause SIBO. ASny suggestions would help. Thanks

  13. Wandasue says:

    Hello I also have trouble going to the bathroom it’s been like this since I gave birth to my daughter in 1994 it’s just Gorton worse I feel so bloated and have a bad burning sensation on my right side every elyear for the past 4 years February march April the burning returned on the right side feeling like something leaking can’t sleep good never comfortable driving a car is bad and I’m told there was a cyst one year a ulcer another kidney stones this last time but they where on the left side in the ct scan well the pain is the right side I can’t handle daily life anymore cause I feel I’m carrying something around in side me and it’s twisting and punching and leaking burning it terrible no one gets it even had a ablation done..i try to go to the bathroom sit there and go and one little subcence comes out and it feeling like I just delivered a baby….ive been so miserable it keeping me from work and DAYLY life. No one listens the do scan and say everything looks fine… it not fine when there pain everyday and u feel like there something in there…i called someone different and he setting up for me to do coloscope April 25 cause he had planed vacation when I seen him march 28th for 3 weeks that the earliest I can get in..i gave myself a intama today one little size of dime came out that’s as it..im scared what u think might be happening inside or going down or on..thanks a million

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