Reviewed by Jeffrey Kern, MD, Laurie L. Carr, MD, Bronwyn Long, DNP, MBA, RN

Constipation

Constipation and diarrhea are experienced often by people with cancer. When you are constipated, you may have fewer bowel movements than what is normal for you. Your bowel movements may be hard or dry, and more difficult to pass. Changes in bowel function can be caused by changes to your body’s metabolism. These can be caused by disease, medications, dehydration or changes in daily habits and activities that disrupt your bodily functions. 

 

Medications That Can Cause Constipation

  • Chemotherapy
  • Pain medications
  • Anti-nausea medications

It is important to treat constipation for your comfort and quality of life. When your platelet counts are low (thrombocytopenia), you are at increased risk for rectal bleeding while constipated.

 

Non-Medication Treatments

  • Drink prune or apple juice as needed
  • Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods to increase your fiber intake
  • Fruits: dried prunes, apricots, raisins
  • Vegetables: raw or cooked broccoli, green beans, spinach, leafy green salads
  • Breads and grains: bran muffins or cereal, brown rice, whole-wheat bread
  • Nuts and seeds: Walnuts, popcorn, sunflower seeds
  • Engage in moderate exercise (e.g., walk around the block) for 15-30 minutes daily to help bowels move
  • Drink a lot of water (e.g., at least 8 glasses daily) to help prevent dehydration, which can increase constipation

 

Medication Treatments

Talk with your doctor about developing a bowel program that will meet your needs.

 

When To Call The Doctor

Call within 24 hours if you experience the following:

  • Pain in your stomach
  • Fever
  • Unable to pass gas
  • Nausea or vomiting with your constipation
  • No bowel movement within 3 days after taking laxatives as recommended
  • Swelling of your stomach, or if it feels hard to the touch

Clinical Trials

For more than 100 years, National Jewish Health has been committed to finding new treatments and cures for diseases. Search our clinical trials.