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.

Factors that 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

  • 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.