Prescribed as a treatment for bacterial infections, antibiotics do a great job of killing harmful bacteria. However, they sometimes do their job too well and also kill the beneficial bacteria in your body, especially those found in the gut.
One complication of this is constipation, which is defined by infrequent and painful bowel movements. No one wants to add this to their list of symptoms when they’re already sick, which is why we have compiled some tips to help you treat and prevent this condition.
Table of Contents
- Do Antibiotics Cause Constipation?
- How Else Can Antibiotics Affect Your Gut and Digestive System?
- How To Treat Your Constipation from Antibiotics?
- How Can You Prevent Constipation While Taking Antibiotics?
- What Other Side Effects Can Antibiotics Have?
- When To See a Doctor?
- Key Takeaways
Do Antibiotics Cause Constipation?
In some cases, constipation may result from antibiotic usage. Still, the potential for this side effect to occur depends on the type of antibiotic taken and if you have other risk factors for constipation.
Antibiotics can cause constipation because of their effect on the gut microbiome, which is a diverse range of bacteria native to the gut that aid with digestion.
An antibiotic’s goal is to kill bacteria. While its target is generally the bacteria causing your infection, antibiotics can affect various other bacteria in the body if the method by which they work is something to which the other bacteria are sensitive. This means that some antibiotics may kill off beneficial gut bacteria.
Killing the good bacteria in your gut can cause imbalance, and when the gut microbiome is thrown off, gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation, may occur.
Nevertheless, constipation experienced while taking antibiotics is not always from the antibiotic itself and sometimes results as a side effect of being sick.
How Else Can Antibiotics Affect Your Gut and Digestive System?
Since antibiotics may affect the gut microbiome, there are many other ways in which they affect the gut and digestive system.
Some antibiotics are more likely to result in gastrointestinal symptoms than others, such as amoxicillin. Some side effects of amoxicillin include:
- stomach pain
- a black or hairy tongue
Some antibiotics (e.g., ampicillin, clindamycin, amoxicillin, cephalosporins, and fluoroquinolones) may also increase the risk of developing a C. diff infection.
C. diff infections can then cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as:
- watery diarrhea
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- pus or blood in bowel movement
- swollen or tender belly
- cramping in the stomach
How To Treat Your Constipation from Antibiotics?
In most cases, the best way to treat constipation due to antibiotics is to implement general strategies used to find relief from constipation. These interventions include:
- managing your fever
- drinking more fluids
- trying to be physically active
- consuming more fiber
The following are some other interventions that may help:
While not guaranteed to work, anecdotally, many people report relief from constipation when using probiotics. This is because probiotics help to replenish destroyed gut bacteria, and some studies support the idea that probiotics can treat certain types of constipation. However, other studies are inconclusive.
Of note, experts recommend against using probiotics in children.
In cases of severe constipation, your doctor may recommend using a laxative to help relieve constipation. However, this recommendation, and the best type of laxative, will depend on factors such as your age and medical history.
Additionally, the misuse of laxatives can cause serious health complications, so it is always recommended to discuss their use with a doctor first.
How Can You Prevent Constipation While Taking Antibiotics?
While antibiotics may cause constipation, they are not always the reason for constipation occurring while sick. In fact, the more likely cause is the illness requiring antibiotics.
If you are sick and prescribed antibiotics, try following the below tips to help prevent constipation and keep your gastrointestinal tract moving nicely.
Constipation often results due to dehydration, which can make it harder for someone to pass a bowel movement. Since fever increases the risk of dehydration, and commonly accompanies those who are sick, be sure to continue drinking fluids such as water, tea, or broth to stay hydrated and prevent constipation.
Manage Your Fever
As we know, a fever can cause dehydration, which then contributes to constipation. Because of this, managing your fever is a crucial step in reducing the risk of constipation.
Some ways to manage a fever include:
- taking ibuprofen or paracetamol
- drinking plenty of fluids
- placing a damp washcloth (using lukewarm water) on exposed skin
- avoiding cold showers or baths
- getting plenty of rest
Eat More Fiber
Fiber helps to keep your digestive system going, so if you want to avoid constipation, it’s recommended to keep up your fiber intake. This can be challenging when sick since, many times, illness can cause us to lose our appetite. Still, try eating some high-fiber foods such as oatmeal, whole grain bread, apples, and pears to keep things running smoothly and avoid more trouble that you want to deal with.
Get Some (Light) Exercise
Rest is crucial while you’re sick, but to help prevent constipation, you will still want to get some light exercise. Not only will this help with your digestive system (and prevent constipation), but it can also help boost your immune system. However, the type of workout you do is important.
Exercising too hard while sick can cause the body to sweat and lose water, potentially increasing the risk of dehydration. As we know, constipation can result from dehydration, so you want to avoid this.
Because of this, try avoiding the following workouts when sick:
- strength training with heavy weights
- spin classes
- endurance training
- hot yoga
Instead, opt for light to moderate exercises, such as walking, to prevent constipation and help your body recover.
What Other Side Effects Can Antibiotics Have?
Antibiotics can have some significant side effects, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) citing that one in five medication-related trips to the emergency room is related to antibiotic side effects.
While digestive problems are the most common side effect of antibiotics, other possibilities include:
- fungal infections (e.g., thrush)
- yeast infections
- drug interactions
There are also potentially severe side effects of antibiotics, such as:
- C. diff-induced colitis
- antibiotic resistance
- kidney disease
Those with any symptoms of the above severe side effects should seek immediate medical attention.
When to See a Doctor?
Constipation, even if it occurs while taking an antibiotic, is not often anything to worry about. Following the above recommendations for treating and preventing constipation can go a long way in hydrating the body and keeping the digestive system working properly.
However, it is time to seek medical attention if your symptoms become intense, such as a new or worsening fever, or if your constipation and other side effects worsen steadily. In these cases of severe symptoms, there may be a dangerous infection present, or you may be having an adverse antibiotic reaction. Your doctor can help you get to the bottom of your discomfort.
Furthermore, if you have constipation that does not get better once you stop taking antibiotics, it’s recommended to see a doctor.
If you’re looking to see a doctor quickly and conveniently, DrHouse can connect you with a doctor in just 15 minutes, no matter where you are.
Constipation is never pleasant, and sometimes it can combine with illness and antibiotic usage, making you feel worse. While antibiotics can affect your gut, primarily by killing helpful bacteria (which can cause constipation), other elements of illness, such as fever, can also increase your risk of constipation.
To keep things running smoothly in your digestive system, be sure to stay hydrated, manage your fever, eat more fiber, and get some light exercise. Above all else, if your symptoms get severe or something doesn’t seem right, don’t hesitate to reach out to a doctor for guidance.
- Patangia, D., Anthony Ryan, C., Dempsey, E., Paul Ross, R., & Stanton, C. (2022). Impact of antibiotics on the human microbiome and consequences for host health. Microbiologyopen, 11(1). doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1002/mbo3.1260
- Dimidi, E., Mark Scott, S., & Whelan, K. (2019). Probiotics and constipation: mechanisms of action, evidence for effectiveness and utilisation by patients and healthcare professionals. Proceedings Of The Nutrition Society, 79(1), 147-157. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1017/s0029665119000934
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- Centers for Disease Control (CDC). (n.d.) Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer. https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/pdfs/aaw/AU_Arent_Always_The_Answer_fs_508.pdf
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- Banawas, S. (2018). Clostridium difficile Infections: A Global Overview of Drug Sensitivity and Resistance Mechanisms. Biomed Research International, 2018, 1-9. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1155/2018/8414257