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Constipation

  • Constipation is common after surgery, especially while you are taking pain medicine and your daily activity level is decreased.

    Signs of constipation include:

    • fewer number of bowel movements
    • small, hard stools that are difficult to pass
    • feeling bloated and uncomfortable
    • gas
    • abdominal cramping

    How to prevent constipation

    • Drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of liquids each day. Liquids add moisture to stool, making them easier to pass. Water is your best choice. Caffeine or alcohol can make constipation worse.
    • Eat more high-fiber foods such as whole-grain bread, bran cereals, fresh fruit and vegetables.
    • Be as active as you can each day. Walking around your house or apartment will help. Follow your health care provider’s instructions for exercise.
    • Try to have a bowel movement when you feel the urge. Do not ignore the urge. Try to set aside some time after breakfast or dinner to sit on the toilet.
    • Take less pain medicine if possible. Follow your surgeon’s instructions for taking pain medicine.

    Use of constipation medicines

    You may need to take a laxative to prevent constipation as long as you are taking prescription pain medicine. Common products include:

    • stimulant laxatives. These cause the colon to have a bowel movement. This is the best choice when your constipation is caused by a prescription pain medicine. Examples include senna (Senokot®) and bisacodyl (Dulcolax®, Correctol®). Follow package directions.
    • stool softeners. These add moisture to the stools to make the stool softer and easier to pass. These may not be enough to prevent constipation while you are taking a prescription pain medicine. An example is docusate (Colace®). Follow package directions.

    When to call your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if:

    • your constipation does not improve after you have:
      • made changes to what you are eating
      • made exercise changes
      • tried laxatives or stool softeners
    • you have not had a bowel movement in three days
    • you have a severe, sudden onset of abdominal pain
    • you have blood in your stool
  • Tip

    • Laxatives and stool softeners can be purchased at most local grocery stores, drugstores and large retailers.
    • Read the label carefully and follow package directions. Talk with your pharmacist if you have any questions.
    • Stop taking a laxative or stool softener when your bowel movements are back to normal.