Constipation happens when bowel movements (stools) become less frequent or difficult to pass. For those dealing with cancer, it is a common problem. Constipation can be a serious medical condition so it is important to report any symptoms of constipation to your healthcare providers.
The following factors can contribute to constipation:
- Medications (including some chemotherapies, opioid pain relievers, antidepressants, tranquilizers, and muscle relaxants)
- Decreased activity levels
- Disrupted schedules
- Increased stress and anxiety
Signs of constipation include:
- Irregular or less frequent bowel movements
- Hard stools
- Difficulty or straining to pass a stool
- Bloating, abdominal cramping and pain
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
Practical tips to prevent and manage constipation:
- Drink at least eight glasses of water daily.
- Eat high fiber foods such as whole grain cereals, fruits (especially prunes, figs, and dates), vegetables, nuts, peanut butter, and popcorn.
- Avoid dairy products and fried foods.
- Exercise if you can and as approved by your doctor, even if it is only walking around your house.
- Drink a warm drink half an hour to an hour before the time you usually have a bowel movement.
- If you are taking or start to take opioid pain medication, ask for help from your doctors and nurses to prevent constipation.
- If needed, use a very mild stool softener or laxative. They can provide temporary relief, but should not be used long-term, because they can make symptoms worse.