MultiCare Health System

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

What to Look For:
  • Small, hard bowel movements
  • Leakage of soft stool resembling diarrhea.
  • Stomach ache or cramps, passing a lot of gas or belching frequently.
  • Belly appears blown up or puffy.
  • No regular bowel movement within the past three days.
  • Vomiting or nausea.
  • Feeling of fullness or discomfort.

What the Patient Can Do:
  • Drink more fluids to help prevent dehydration. Fresh fruit juices (except apple juice) and warm or hot fluids in the morning are especially helpful.
  • Increase the amount of fiber in the daily diet by eating foods like:  
                  – Whole grain breads and cereals
                  – Fresh raw fruits with skins and seeds
                  – Fresh raw vegetables
                  – Fruit juices
                  – Dates, apricots, raisins, prunes, prune juice, nuts
  • Avoid foods and drinks that cause gas such as cabbage, broccoli, and carbonated drinks
  • Avoid or eat rarely any foods that cause you to be constipated, such as cheese or eggs
  • Get as much light exercise as you can
  • Use stool softeners or laxatives only on the advice of your doctor or nurse
  • Go to the bathroom as soon as you have the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Keep record of bowel movements so that problems can be recognized quickly

What Caregivers Can Do:
  • Offer prune juice, hot lemon water, or tea to 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 or enemas

Call the Doctor if the Patient:
  • has not had a bowel movement in 48 hours
  • has blood in or around anal area or in stool (see section on blood in stool)
  • cannot move bowels within one or two days after taking laxative
  • has cramps or vomiting that won’t stop