Treatment of constipation includes prevention (if possible), elimination of possible causes, and limited use of laxatives. Constipation caused by opioid pain medicine may be treated with a drug given by injection. Suggestions for the patient's treatment plan may include the following:
- Keep a record of all bowel movements.
- Increase the fluid intake by drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid each day (patients who have kidney or heart disease may need to limit fluid intake).
- Exercise regularly, including abdominal exercises in bed or moving from the bed to chair if the patient cannot walk.
- Increase the amount of dietary fiber by eating more fruits (raisins, prunes, peaches, and apples), vegetables (squash, broccoli, carrots, and celery), 100% whole grain cereals and breads, and bran. Patients must drink more fluids when increasing dietary fiber or they may become constipated. (See the PDQ summary on Nutrition in Cancer Care for more information.) Patients who have had a bowel obstruction or have undergone bowel surgery (for example, a colostomy) should not eat a high-fiber diet.
- Drink a warm or hot drink about one half-hour before the patient's usual time for a bowel movement.
- Provide privacy and quiet time when the patient needs to have a bowel movement.
- Help the patient to the toilet or provide a bedside commode instead of a bedpan.
- Take only medications prescribed by the doctor.
- Do not use suppositories or enemas unless ordered by the doctor. In some cancer patients, these treatments may lead to bleeding, infection, or other harmful side effects.
Current Clinical Trials
Check NCI's list of cancer clinical trials for U.S. supportive and palliative care trials about constipation, impaction, and bowel obstruction that are now accepting participants. The list of trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.
General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.