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Constipation

Symptom and Description

Constipation means being unable to move your bowels, having to push harder to move your bowels, or moving them less often than usual. Bowel movements will be small, dry, and hard. Constipation happens when you get less exercise, or when you eat and drink less than usual. Some medicines cause constipation. Constipation can cause pain and discomfort. Keeping your bowel routine regular and your bowel movements easy to pass is important. Your bowels should move every day with little or no strain. You are at risk for constipation if you have a:

  • Decrease in the amount you eat and drink each day

  • Decrease in your activity or exercise

  • Medication that causes constipation

  • Cancer that causes pressure on your bowel or changes in the way your bowel works

Learning Needs

You need to know how to prevent constipation and, if constipation happens, to manage it before it gets severe. Write down when you move your bowels and if there are changes in your normal bowel movements. Have the notes with you when you call or come for care.

Prevention

You can help prevent constipation if you:

  • Drink several glasses of fluid each day.

  • Eat foods that are high in dietary fiber.

  • Exercise daily. If you are unable to increase your exercise, tighten and relax the muscles in your abdomen and move your legs often while sitting or in bed.

  • Take medications as instructed to prevent constipation.

  • Try to move your bowels at your usual times. Many people find that after breakfast is a good time to try to have a bowel movement.

  • Avoid using the bedpan if possible. A natural position on the toilet or on a commode is best.

  • Tell your doctor or nurse about things that have worked for you in the past to prevent constipation.

Management

1. Using medications to prevent constipation: Preventing and managing constipation are easy when you work together with your health care provider. You may need to increase or decrease doses of medicine to achieve easy and regular bowel movements.

2. Once you begin to have regular bowel movements, use the morning and evening doses of medicines you were taking when you had a bowel movement as your regular dose of medicine for your bowels.

3. If you are unsure of what to do, please call.

Follow-up

If you are having trouble with your bowel movements, call your doctor or nurse. Be ready to tell them the following:

1. When you last had a bowel movement

  • Was it normal in size, color, and firmness?

  • Was it difficult to pass?

  • Have you had diarrhea?

2. The amount and kinds of fluid and food you are eating and drinking

3. The names and amounts of medicine you are taking for your bowels

4. Any changes in your health

5. Any new medications or treatments since your last visit

6. What you are doing to manage your bowels on your own

It is important to call your doctor or nurse if your pain medications are increased, so your bowel management plan can be checked. If you need help in learning about foods that help prevent constipation, call the nutritionist.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fincannon, Joy RN MN
Online Medical Reviewer: Kanipe, Jennifer RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kimberly RN, MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Wilkes, Gail RN, MS, AOCN®
Last Review Date: 7/22/2011
© 2013 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.