Cancer treatments and some other medications can cause constipation. Pain relievers, called “opioids” (such as morphine, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and Tylenol) can lead to this uncomfortable condition. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, and antidepressants are some of the most common culprits. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments available to help you find relief.
Constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week. According to research, between 41 and 81 percent of people who take opioids for chronic pain not related to cancer experience constipation. To help treat the effects of constipation caused by these medications, laxatives can be used. Eating 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day is also recommended. Citrucel and Metamucil are two popular over-the-counter laxatives that can be used to relieve constipation.
Citrucel should be taken one to three tablespoons per day, while Metamucil can be taken up to three times a day. Be sure to follow the instructions of the product you use. If these treatments don't work, there are other medications available that may be more effective. Opioid-induced constipation (OIC) is a specific type of constipation caused by opioids. If you have constipation that isn't caused by medications, ask to talk to a BC Cancer dietician or see this page for more information.
Surgery may be an option if you have tried other treatments and your chronic constipation is due to an obstruction, rectocele, or stenosis. All types of laxatives can help a person with drug-induced constipation, except for mass-forming laxatives. Linaclotide is a prescription medication used to treat chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) and irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C). This drug works by bringing water to the intestines so that stools are eliminated more easily and helps make bowel movements occur more frequently. Another type of medication used to treat chronic constipation is anticholinergics. These drugs stop the activity of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which allows muscles to move and can cause constipation.
Your doctor may suggest this medication if you have chronic constipation or constipation caused by opioids. Over-the-counter laxatives are generally safe and effective in treating constipation, including constipation caused by certain medications. Fiber supplements may also be helpful in relieving OIC; however, more studies and research are needed to confirm their effectiveness. Constipation caused by medications can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. Fortunately, there are many treatments available that can help you find relief.
Eating a high-fiber diet and taking over-the-counter laxatives such as Citrucel or Metamucil can help relieve symptoms. If these treatments don't work, there are other medications available that may be more effective.