Coping with Chemotherapy-Induced Constipation: Tips and Strategies

Cancer treatment often includes chemotherapy, which can cause many side effects, including constipation. Constipation is a common issue among cancer patients, affecting up to 60% of those undergoing chemotherapy. This can be uncomfortable and may even lead to complications, such as bowel obstruction. However, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of constipation during chemotherapy.

One of the most effective ways to prevent constipation is by ensuring that you drink enough fluids. Chemotherapy can dehydrate the body, making it more difficult for the stool to pass through the colon. Drinking enough water, juice, and other non-caffeinated beverages can help keep the stool soft and prevent constipation. Aim for at least 8-10 cups of fluids per day, but check with your doctor if you need to limit your fluid intake due to other medical conditions.

Another important step is to eat a balanced diet that is high in fibre. Foods that are rich in fibre include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. These foods can help add bulk to the stool and make it easier to pass. Try to include at least 25-30 grams of fibre in your diet each day, but be sure to increase your fibre intake gradually to avoid bloating and discomfort.

Regular physical activity can also help keep the bowels moving. Even a short walk or light exercise can stimulate the digestive system and promote bowel movements. Speak with your doctor about what kind of exercise is safe for you during chemotherapy.

If constipation does occur, there are several over-the-counter remedies that can help. Stool softeners, such as docusate sodium, can help make the stool easier to pass. However, these medications should be used with caution and only as directed by a healthcare provider. Laxatives, such as bisacodyl or senna, can also help stimulate the bowels. However, these medications should also be used with caution, as they can cause cramping and diarrhoea if used too often or in too high a dose.

In some cases, prescription medications may be necessary to manage constipation. For example, lubiprostone is a medication that can help stimulate bowel movements by increasing the amount of fluid in the intestines. This medication may be useful for patients who have not responded to other treatments.

It is important to communicate with your oncologist about any constipation you may be experiencing during chemotherapy. Your provider may recommend a stool softener or laxative, or may need to adjust your chemotherapy regimen to prevent constipation from occurring.

In addition to these steps, there are several lifestyle modifications that can help prevent constipation during chemotherapy. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate the body, can be helpful. Stress reduction techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, may also help stimulate bowel movements. Finally, maintaining a regular bowel routine, such as going to the bathroom at the same time each day, can help train the bowels to move more regularly.

In conclusion, constipation is a common issue among cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of constipation. Drinking enough fluids, eating a balanced diet that is high in fibre, engaging in regular physical activity, and communicating with your healthcare provider about any constipation you may be experiencing are all important steps to take. With these strategies, patients can reduce their risk of constipation and maintain their overall health and well-being during chemotherapy.

References:

National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Constipation (PDQ®) Health Professional Version. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/constipation/constipation-hp-pdq

Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. (n.d.). Coping with constipation during chemotherapy. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://www.royalmarsden.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/files_trust/constipation%20during%20chemotherapy.pdf

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Constipation. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/constipation/symptoms-causes/syc-20354253

American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Managing Constipation. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/constipation/managing.html

UpToDate. (n.d.). Patient education: Chemotherapy side effects (Beyond the Basics). Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/chemotherapy-side-effects-beyond-the-basics