Nutritional Management of Constipation

Constipation is a common side effect of some anti-cancer and pain medications. Drinking plenty of fluids and getting some exercise every day help prevent constipation. High-fiber foods can relieve constipation but are not recommended for all cancer patients. The oncology team can suggest ways to relieve constipation and prescribe a laxative or stool softener if necessary. 

Some anticancer medications, pain medications, and other medications cause constipation, a condition in which the stool becomes hard and dry, making it difficult to pass. Waste matter that stays too long in the bowels so that too much water is absorbed from the stools will initiate constipation. The following suggestions may help to prevent or alleviate constipation:

  • Drink plenty of liquids, especially water - at least eight big glasses every day.
  • Drink a hot drink such as hot tea one hour before your usual time for a bowel movement.
  • Try to avoid gas-forming foods and beverages such as broccoli, cabbage, and carbonated beverages.
  • Try to get some exercise every day to help prevent constipation.
If you have not had a bowel movement for a day or two, call your physician who may suggest taking a laxative or stool softener. High-fiber foods will help constipation but check with your physician or registered dietitian before you eat these foods because there are certain types of cancer for which a high-fiber diet is not recommended.

The following are high-fiber foods that may help to relieve constipation (if you are permitted to eat them; always consult your physician or dietitian for more information):
  • whole-grain breads and cereals
  • dried fruits
  • wheat bran
  • wheat germ
  • fresh fruits and vegetables including the skin on your potatoes
  • dried beans and peas
  • oats
  • barley
  • brown rice

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