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Constipation is when your bowel motions (stools) are infrequent 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.
Severe constipation accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal pain and swelling, nausea and vomiting can indicate a blockage in the bowel (bowel obstruction). This needs urgent medical attention.
How to manage constipation
- Soften stools by drinking 8–10 glasses of fluid a day (e.g. water, herbal tea, milk-based drinks, soup, prune juice).
- Eat foods that are 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 are increasing the amount of fibre in your diet, be sure to increase the amount of fluids to avoid the extra fibre making constipation worse.
- Ask your doctor about using a laxative, stool softener and/or fibre supplement.
- Aim to do some physical activity every day. Check with your doctor, exercise physiologist or physiotherapist about the amount and type of exercise that is right for you.
- If you have had surgery for bowel cancer, see Eating after surgery, and ask your health care team for specific dietary advice. They may advise a low-fibre diet to avoid constipation in your situation.
Jenelle Loeliger, Head of Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rebecca Blower, Public Health Advisor, Cancer Prevention, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Julia Davenport, Consumer; Irene Deftereos, Senior Dietitian, Western Health, VIC; Lynda Menzies, A/Senior Dietitian – Cancer Care (APD), Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Janice Savage, Consumer.
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