Quitting Smoking and Constipation

Severe morning stomach pain. Debica, Poland
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Quitting smoking can sometimes cause constipation and other intestinal difficulties. Along with constipation, nausea and gas are considered symptoms of withdrawal from tobacco products.

Fortunately, digestive issues usually resolve themselves in a matter of weeks. While they are not pleasant, don't let the discomforts derail your quit program.

In addition to nicotine withdrawal, it is also possible that other changes you may have made since quitting tobacco are contributing to the constipation that you're experiencing.

This article discusses a few common causes of constipation that are associated with quitting smoking. It also covers what you can do to treat and cope with this symptom.

Constipation Symptoms

Signs of constipation include infrequent bowel movements that occur less than two to three times per week. Other common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Bloated belly
  • Bloody stool
  • Hard stool
  • Pain while using the bathroom
  • Straining while passing stool

While not common, sometimes people may experience feelings of nausea or vomiting due to constipation. If this happens, you should contact your healthcare provider.

You may also experience other intestinal problems when quitting smoking including feelings of nausea or gas that are related to nicotine withdrawal.

Causes of Constipation When Quitting Smoking

There are a number of different factors that can play a role in causing constipation when you are quitting smoking. These include nicotine withdrawal and other changes in your diet, activity, and stress levels.

Nicotine Withdrawal

Nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes that makes quitting so challenging. It also leads to withdrawal symptoms when you stop smoking, including constipation.

Because nicotine affects the small bowel and colon, your body needs to adjust when levels of the substance suddenly decrease or disappear. Because constipation is connected to nicotine withdrawal, it may begin to gradually subside along with other withdrawal symptoms after a few weeks.

If constipation persists, it may be due to other factors such as medication side effects, changes in diet, stress, or activity levels.

Quit Aids

Two prescription quit aid medications list nausea and constipation as side effects: Chantix (varenicline) and Zyban (bupropion).

Research has found that taking varenicline for longer than six weeks was associated with adverse gastrointestinal effects including constipation, flatulence, and nausea. 

If you are using one of these, check in with your doctor for advice on how to proceed.

Changes in Diet

It is not unusual to experience dramatic changes in what you eat when you first quit smoking. Many people turn to food to bridge the gap between the hand-to-mouth activity that smoking was, as well as using food for comfort when craving cigarettes.

Often, the foods that you choose might leave your daily diet less than balanced. This can then lead to digestive disturbances.

Take a good look at what you've been eating since you quit smoking. Certain foods such as high-fat meats, eggs, dairy, sugary sweets, and other foods low in fiber can contribute to constipation. Work on more high-fiber choices in your daily diet including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Increased Stress

While leaving cigarettes behind will eventually bring more peace to your life than you had as a smoker, initially, smoking cessation may increase the stress and anxiety you feel in the short-term.

Emotional stress can have physical effects on your body, including digestion. If this strikes a chord with you, try incorporating some tension tamers into your daily routine.

A few minutes of meditation when you wake up, deep breathing when stress bubbles up during the day, and a hot bath or time with a good book before bed will help you keep stress at bay. Reducing your stress may then help keep your bowel movements regular.

Changes in Activity

Smoking cessation throws life out of whack for many people, both physically and psychologically. You might feel tired and cranky, and often, less active than normal.

While this is fine and to be expected, less exercise than what you are accustomed to, along with some or all of the other issues listed above, can be a significant contributor to constipation.

Aim for a half-hour of some form of exercise most days. It will help your body adjust to the absence of tobacco and beat back cravings to smoke as well.

If you haven't been active recently, be sure to check in with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.

Constipation Relief

If you are experiencing constipation related to quitting smoking, there are some ways you can find relief. As mentioned above, making sure you are consuming enough fiber and getting regular physical exercise can help combat constipation caused by nicotine withdrawal. Also, be sure that you are drinking plenty of water.

Other options that may help relieve constipation include over-the-counter fiber supplements and laxatives or prescription medications.

Talk to your healthcare provider, particularly if you are using a quit aid, if you have other medical conditions, or if your constipation is severe. If any symptoms of intestinal pain persist or increase over time, don't hesitate to contact your doctor for a check-up.

Recap

Nicotine withdrawal and changes in lifestyle that occur after you quit smoking can contribute to constipation. This symptom typically subsides over the course of a few weeks but taking steps to eat a balanced diet, get enough exercise, drink enough water, and manage stress levels can also help you find relief.

A Word From Verywell

The effects of nicotine withdrawal can be unpleasant, and it does take time for our bodies to find a new normal once we stop using tobacco, but the balance will return eventually.

Remember that you are doing the absolute best thing you could for your health and well-being by quitting tobacco. Don't let temporary discomforts deter you. Better days are coming, and they are not far off.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does constipation last after quitting smoking?

    Constipation usually gradually decreases within a few weeks. If your symptoms do not begin to improve or are severe, you should talk to your healthcare provider.

  • How can I relieve constipation from quitting smoking?

    Dietary fiber, exercise, and hydration can help. OTC fiber supplements or laxatives may also provide relief. Your doctor may also be able to prescribe medications that ease constipation.

  • Does the nicotine patch help relieve constipation when quitting smoking?

    Because nicotine has a stimulating effect on the intestinal tract, the amount delivered by the nicotine patch may help minimize constipation as you are quitting smoking. You should not rely on the patch for constipation relief, however.

  • Why does quitting smoking cause constipation?

    Because nicotine affects the bowel and colon, constipation is a common symptom of nicotine withdrawal as you quit smoking. Changes in diet, activity level and stress can also contribute to problems with constipation.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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