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Surgery can be stressful, and it can take a major toll on your body. Constipation is a common side effect of surgery that people often don’t expect.
It can add to the discomfort of the healing process, but there are ways to manage it.
Keep reading to find out how surgery can lead to constipation and how to manage with it.
Symptoms of constipation include:
- having fewer than three bowel movements a week
- experiencing a sudden decrease in bowel movements
- needing to strain during bowel movements
- bloating or increased gas
- having abdominal or rectal pain
- having hard stools
- feeling incomplete emptying after bowel movements
If you experience these after surgery, ask your doctor for advice on how to manage constipation.
Several factors may contribute to constipation after surgery.
- narcotic pain relievers, such as opioids
- general anesthesia
- an inflammatory stimulus, such as trauma or infection
- an electrolyte, fluid, or glucose imbalance
- prolonged inactivity
- changes to diet, especially insufficient fiber
Lifestyle and dietary changes may help prevent constipation after surgery or at least lessen its duration.
Start walking around as soon as your doctor gives you the go-ahead.
If you’re undergoing knee replacement surgery, exercise will be part of your treatment program, and your physical therapist will advise you on suitable exercises.
Not only can this help with constipation, but it can also benefit the overall healing process while reducing the chances of blood clots.
Adjust your medication
Postoperative narcotics slow down the motility of your gut, so try to limit your use of them.
Studies show that nearly 40 percent of people experience constipation while taking opioids. This is called opioid-induced constipation.
If you can tolerate the pain and your doctor approves, opt for ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead.
After surgery, you should also plan to take a stool softener, such as docusate (Colace). A fiber laxative, such as psyllium (Metamucil), may also be helpful.
Purchase a laxative or stool softener before your surgery so that you have it available when you return home.
If you have severe constipation, you may need stimulant laxatives, suppositories, or enemas to produce a bowel movement.
If over-the-counter laxatives don’t work, your doctor may prescribe prescription drugs that draw water into your intestines to stimulate a bowel movement.
Linaclotide (Linzess) or lubiprostone (Amitiza) are two such medications.
Following a high-fiber diet before surgery can reduce your overall risk of constipation. That in turn may help you avoid constipation after surgery.
You should also drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, in the days leading up to surgery and after.
You may also want to add prunes and prune juice to your postsurgery diet.
A high-fiber diet may include:
- whole grains
- fresh fruits
Avoid foods that may increase the risk of constipation. These include:
- dairy products
- white bread or rice
- processed foods
Without treatment, constipation can sometimes cause painful and potentially serious complications.
These may include:
Constipation usually responds to treatment or goes away in time. If it doesn’t go away, however, you should call a doctor.
Seek medical help if you experience the following:
- rectal bleeding
- rectal pain
- abdominal pain that isn’t directly related to the surgical incision
- abdominal pain with nausea and vomiting
The time it takes to recover from constipation can depend on various factors.
- your overall health
- activity levels
- the diet you usually follow
- the time you spent under anesthesia or using narcotic pain relief
Stool softeners and fiber laxatives usually bring relief within a few days. If these don’t work, ask your doctor about other options.
If your doctor prescribes stimulant laxatives and suppositories, but these don’t work within 24 hours, ask for further advice.
Learn more here about treatment for opioid-induced constipation.
Constipation doesn’t usually lead to serious complications, but it can cause severe pain, discomfort, and distress.
Depending on the type of surgery you have had, it can cause your surgical incision to reopen, which is a serious complication. This is why it’s important to let your doctor know if you have constipation.
It isn’t always possible to prevent constipation after surgery, but you can take some measures beforehand to reduce its impact.
Here are some tips:
- With your doctor, create a presurgery and postsurgery diet and treatment plan.
- Ask your doctor what the options are for managing constipation.
- Let your doctor know if you usually experience constipation.
- Drink plenty of fluids before and after surgery.
- Stock up on high-fiber foods, stool softeners, or laxatives ahead of time, so they’ll ready for use during your recovery.