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Constipation is when your bowel movements (faeces, stools or poo) are hard and difficult to pass. It can be caused by different factors including: some chemotherapy and anti-nausea drugs; strong pain medicines (opioids); eating less fibre; not moving around as much; not drinking enough (dehydration); or not eating enough.
If you have severe constipation with symptoms such as abdominal (tummy) pain and swelling, nausea and vomiting, this may be sign of a blockage in the bowel (bowel obstruction). This needs urgent medical attention.
How to manage constipation
- Drink 8–10 glasses of fluid a day (e.g. water, herbal tea, milk-based drinks, soup, prune juice) to soften faeces.
- Eat foods high in insoluble fibre (e.g. wholegrain breads, cereals or pasta; raw and unpeeled fruits and vegetables; nuts and seeds; legumes and pulses).
- If you add foods with more insoluble fibre to your diet, drink more fluids to avoid the extra fibre making constipation worse.
- Ask your doctor about using a laxative, stool softener and/or fibre supplement.
- Plan to do some physical activity every day. Ask your doctor, exercise physiologist or physiotherapist about the amount and type of exercise that is right for you.
- Visit your doctor if you see blood in your faeces. They’ll check for haemorrhoids or any other issues.
- If you have had surgery for bowel cancer and have a stoma ask your health care team for specific dietary advice. They may suggest eating more low-fibre foods avoid constipation.
Podcast for people affected by cancer
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Jacqueline Baker, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Lauren Atkins, Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, OnCore Nutrition, VIC; Dr Tsien Fua, Head and Neck Radiation Oncology Specialist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Clare Hughes, Manager, Nutrition Unit, Cancer Council NSW; John Spurr, Consumer; Emma Vale, Senior Dietitian, GenesisCare, SA; David Wood, Consumer.
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