Death By Constipation? Is It True?


It’s the most common GI complaint in America, so it’s possible that you currently are or have been constipated at some point in your life. However, what if your constipation could kill you? Some say it may have happened to Elvis. What can you do to prevent it from happening to you?

On today’s show, author Mary Roach and I talked about wacky health trends, like purple diets, fecal transplants and vibration machines. However, I was most fascinated with constipation – are you surprised? – because, in some circumstances, it can be fatal! Keep in mind that this phenomenon is rare, but definitely worth learning about.

First, a Little About Constipation:
If you can’t pass a bowel movement for longer than three days, we doctors consider that constipation. However, everyone has different bathroom habits, so if you’re waiting a longer time than usual to have a bowel movement or if you find yourself straining more than 25% of the time in the bathroom, you’re probably constipated.

It can happen for a plethora of reasons. You may not be drinking enough water or getting enough fiber in your diet. You may get it from overloading on too many dairy products or from too much stress. There are also many medications, including strong pain medicines or iron pills, that can trigger constipation.

How Can Constipation Kill You?
Prolonged constipation may cause you to strain and overexert yourself in the bathroom. It can trigger a fatal heart arrhythmia in some people. This happens because as you bear down while holding your breath, it triggers a nerve in your chest that sends a message to your brain that triggers a change in heart rate and blood pressure. Eventually, your blood pressure decreases after 5-7 seconds.

When this happens, your body gets confused and tries to correct it, but sometimes it over-corrects.  This over-correction can throw off your heart rhythm, skyrocket your blood pressure, and trigger a heart arrhythmia. Some say this is what happened to Elvis when he died!

There are other cases of chronic constipation that led to bowel perforation, exacerbated other illnesses, and led to death. However, keep in mind that this tends to happen mostly in the elderly and those with pre-existing heart conditions.

So, How Can You Relieve Your Constipation?
If you find yourself straining in the bathroom, you should work on your toilet posture by practicing squatting. Squatting for a few seconds naturally aligns the intestinal tract in a way that makes it easier to “push” things along. It works better than just sitting. Squatting also pushes your legs against your stomach and that helps as well.

Taking magnesium also helps. You can take it in pill or powder form mixed with orange juice.

Learn about other ways to relieve your constipation.