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. An example is bisacodyl (Dulcolax®, Correctol®).
  • 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 senna (Senokot®).
  • 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.

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

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Hip Replacement, eighth edition, ortho-ah-90139
First Published: 10/01/2000
Last Reviewed: 10/01/2020