Constipation

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Constipation means you're having bowel movements less frequently than normal. The stool can be hard and dry and may be difficult or painful to pass. At one time or another, almost everyone gets constipated. In most cases, it lasts a short time and is not serious.

During breast cancer treatment, your eating habits may change and you may be less physically active. You also may feel weak, in pain, and uncomfortable. All of these factors can cause constipation. Not drinking enough liquids can also cause constipation.

Specific breast cancer treatments known to cause constipation are:

Constipation is also a well-known side effect of many pain medications, including ibuprofen, morphine, codeine, and other opiates.

Managing constipation

Talk to your doctor about any bowel movements that are hard or very loose, or if you have cramps, stomach pain, gas, or no bowel movements for 3 days. Medications are available to help.

Other tips to ease constipation:

  • Avoid foods that may lead to constipation. Some common ones are bananas, cheese, meat, and eggs. Different foods affect people differently.
  • Drink more fluids to prevent dehydration -- about 8 to 12 glasses each day (unless your doctor has advised something else). Consider water, prune juice, and warm fluids in the morning such as herbal tea or hot lemonade.
  • Eat more high-fiber foods, such as whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, fresh raw vegetables, fresh raw fruits or cooked fruits with the peel on, dried fruits, dates, apricots, prunes, popcorn, seeds, and nuts. Fiber isn't digested by the body, so it moves through and is excreted. Fiber also absorbs a lot of water in the bowels, which makes stools softer and easier to pass. Make sure you drink more fluids if you eat more fiber, or your constipation might become worse.
  • Make sure your breakfast includes high-fiber foods and a hot drink. Warm beverages are calming and may help stimulate bowel movement.
  • Drink caffeine in moderation. It has been shown to help constipation. Make sure that you drink plenty of non-caffeinated beverages, too, so you don't become dehydrated.
  • Try to exercise. Exercise can help stimulate your digestion and elimination systems.

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