Constipation is a common side effect of many medications, especially medications for pain. Regular bowel movements are different for everyone, so there’s no “right answer” when it comes to how often you should have a bowel movement.
Constipation means that you are:
- unable to move your bowels, or
- are having fewer bowel movements than normal, or
- are having to push harder to perform your normal bowel movements, or
- bowel movements are painful and stool very hard
This can be very uncomfortable and make you bloated and less hungry.
Here are 4 important things you can do to help your body and reduce risk of constipation:
To reduce your risk of constipation, eat at regular times each day. Your body will know when food is coming and can get on a schedule.
Also, make sure you are drinking enough fluids. Water is preferable, but juice and tea also count towards fluid intake. Try cutting the juice in half with water or seltzer water and adding lemon slices to unsweetened hot tea.
Add in regular physical activity. One of the key risk factors for constipation (outside of cancer and cancer-related medications) is physical inactivity. Getting active, such as walking 30 minutes per day, can aid digestion and assist in regulating your bowel movements. So, get out there and get moving. It will benefit more than just your bowels!
Increase your fiber! Fiber is found naturally in fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, but if necessary, you can use over-the-counter products like Metamucil or Konsyl. It is recommended to have 25-35 grams of fiber per day, but make sure that you start slowly and that your doctor and dietitian recommend increasing fiber.
If you are having continuing difficulty with bowel movements and/or are on opioid pain medications (like fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, and tramadol), you will need to get on a “bowel management regimen.” Don’t wait too long to talk to your medical team about it as you may need to be on a stool softener or laxative regularly as a preventive measure.
- Eat on a schedule, at about the same time every day
- Drink lots of water and other liquids
- Consume adequate fiber, about 25-35g/day
- Avoid foods that increase abdominal gas such as carbonated beverages, broccoli, beans, and cabbage
- Add in regular physical activity
- Talk to your doctors and dietitian about a bowel management plan