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May 20, 2013
72 Percent of Pregnant Women Experience Constipation and Other Bowel Problems, Loyola Study Finds
MAYWOOD, Ill. - Nearly 3 out of 4 pregnant women experience constipation, diarrhea or other bowel disorders during their pregnancies, a Loyola University Medical Center study has found.
But such bowel disorders only minimally affect a pregnant woman’s quality of life, the study found.
The study by senior author Scott Graziano, MD, and Payton Johnson was presented during the 61st Annual Clinical Meeting of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in New Orleans.
As part of this project, 104 pregnant women were enrolled and completed the first trimester questionnaire; 66 women also completed a survey in the third trimester. Seventy-two percent of the first trimester respondents and 61 percent of the third trimester respondents reported one or more bowel disorders, including constipation, diarrhea, bloating and irritable bowel syndrome.
The women also filled out a questionnaire that measures the extent to which bowel problems affect quality of life. (For example, the survey asks whether bowel problems make life less enjoyable, limit what a person can wear or eat or make a person feel embarrassed, vulnerable, angry, isolated or depressed.)
The quality of life survey is scored on a 1 to 100 scale, with 100 representing the least possible impact on quality of life due to bowel problems. The average score was 94.9. The only bowel problems that had a significant impact on quality of life were constipation,which reduced the score by 4.4 points out of 100, and bloating, which reduced the score by 4.0 points.
Graziano said the reason bowel problems have a minimal impact on quality of life is likely because pregnant women have learned to expect such problems during pregnancy and so are better able to tolerate them.
Bowel problems are due to physiological and hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. For example, increased progesterone levels affect the smooth muscles in the intestines. Consequently, it takes longer for food to move through the intestines, which can cause constipation. Vitamins and calcium and iron supplements that women take during pregnancy also can cause constipation, Graziano said.
Graziano recommends pregnant women get adequate fluid intake and plenty of fiber. The Loyola study found that pregnant women consume only 16 to 17 grams of fiber per day, while the recommended level for pregnant women and other adults is 25 to 30 grams per day.
If needed, stool softeners and suppositories are safe for pregnant women, Graziano said.
Graziano is an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Johnson is a third-year medical student at Stritch. The study is a project in Loyola’s STAR program (Student Training in Approaches to Research).
Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.