Cancer: Home Treatment for Constipation

Things you can do

Home treatment may be all that is needed to treat constipation caused by cancer, pain medicine, inactivity, or the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. If your health professional has given you instructions or medicines to treat constipation, be sure to follow them. Check with your health professional before using any nonprescription medicines for your constipation.

First:

  • Make sure you drink enough fluids.
    • Most adults should drink between 8 and 10 glasses of water or noncaffeinated beverages each day.
    • Reduce your intake of alcoholic beverages and caffeine, which can increase dehydration.
    • If you have heart failure or kidney failure, talk to your health professional about what amount of fluid is right for you.
  • Make exercise a routine part of your life. Try to do at least 2½ hours a week of moderate exercise. One way to do this is to be active 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week.1
  • Include fruits, vegetables, and fiber in your diet each day. Have a bran muffin or some bran cereal for breakfast, and try eating a piece of fruit for a mid-afternoon snack.
  • Schedule time each day for a bowel movement. Establishing a daily routine, such as after breakfast, may help. Take your time. Don't be in a hurry.

If you are still constipated:

  • Add some processed or synthetic fiber, such as Benefiber, Citrucel, FiberCon, Metamucil, or Perdiem, to your diet each day.
  • Try a stool softener, such as Colace, if your stools are very hard.

If constipation persists, your health professional may suggest a laxative, such as Fleet Phospho-Soda or Phillip's Milk of Magnesia.

  • Do not use a laxative without consulting your health professional.
  • Do not take a laxative if you are on a sodium-restricted diet or have kidney problems.

You may occasionally need to try a stimulant laxative, such as Ex-Lax or Feen-a-Mint.

  • Do not use laxatives without consulting your health professional.
  • Use these preparations sparingly. Regular use may interfere with your body's ability to absorb vitamin D and calcium, which can weaken your bones.
  • Overuse of stimulant laxatives decreases the tone and sensation in the large intestine, causing dependence on laxatives.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

If one or more of the following symptoms occur during home treatment, contact your health professional:

  • New constipation occurs or other bowel habit changes continue after 1 week of home treatment.
  • Ongoing (chronic) constipation:
    • Is causing new problems.
    • Has gotten worse.
    • Occurs along with other bowel habit changes, such as changes in the size, shape, or consistency of your stools.
  • Rectal pain develops or increases.
  • Blood in the stool develops or increases.
  • Abdominal pain or fever develops.
  • Uncontrolled leakage of stool occurs.
  • Your symptoms become more severe or more frequent.

References

Citations

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/pdf/paguide.pdf.

Credits

Author Bets Davis, MFA
Editor Maria Essig
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arvydas D. Vanagunas, MD - Gastroenterology
Last Updated October 1, 2008

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