Caring for the Patient With Cancer at Home

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Constipation

Constipation is the infrequent or difficult passage of hard stool (feces), which often causes pain and discomfort. It’s caused by too little fluid or not enough movement in the bowel. Lack of activity, weakness, ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement, pain medicine, or poor food and fluid intake can all add to this problem.

What to look for

  • Small, hard bowel movements
  • Leakage of soft, liquid stool that looks like diarrhea
  • Stomach ache or cramps
  • Passing a lot of gas or frequent belching
  • Belly looks blown up or puffy
  • No regular bowel movement within the past 3 days
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Feeling of fullness or discomfort

What the patient can do

  • Drink more fluids. Pasteurized fruit juices and warm or hot fluids in the morning are especially helpful.
  • Eat more high-fiber foods every day, such as: whole-grain breads and cereals; fresh raw fruits with skins and seeds; fresh, raw vegetables; fruit juices; and dates, apricots, raisins, prunes, prune juice, and nuts.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that cause gas, such as cabbage, broccoli, and fizzy drinks.
  • Avoid or cut back on any foods that make you constipated, such as cheese or eggs.
  • Get as much light exercise as you can.
  • Do not use enemas or suppositories. Talk with your doctor or nurse before you use stool softeners or laxatives.
  • Go to the bathroom as soon as you have the urge to have a bowel movement.
  • Keep a record of bowel movements so that problems can be noticed quickly.

What caregivers can do

  • Offer prune juice, hot lemon water, coffee, or tea to help stimulate bowel movements.
  • Encourage extra fluids.
  • Help keep a record of bowel movements.
  • Offer high-fiber foods, such as whole grains, dried fruits, and bran.
  • Talk with the doctor before using laxatives.

Call the doctor if the patient:

  • Has not had a bowel movement in 3 days
  • Has blood in or around the anal area or in the stool (See the section called “Blood in stool.”)
  • Cannot move bowels within 1 or 2 days after taking laxative
  • Has belly cramps or vomiting that doesn’t stop

Last Medical Review: 11/05/2013
Last Revised: 11/05/2013