Opioid-Induced Constipation

Opioid-Induced Constipation

Opioids are effective pain relievers, but commonly cause changes in your bowel habits.  Why does this happen?  These medications increase the amount of time it takes stool to move through the gastrointestinal system.   They are also able to partially paralyze the stomach so that food remains in the stomach for a longer period of time.  Additionally, opioids reduce digestive secretions and decrease the urge to pass stool.  Often, laxatives and/or stool softeners are prescribed/recommended at the same time as the pain killers.

How can you prevent this from happening?  You can make changes in your lifestyle by:

  • Increasing your dietary fiber (whole grain breads/cereal, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds)
  • Increasing decaffeinated fluid intake to at least 8 cups/day
  • Increasing exercise or physical activity (15-30 minutes/day)
  • Increasing time and privacy for toileting

What options are available for treating constipation if lifestyle changes are not possible or effective?

  • Colace (docusate sodium) 100mg 1-2 capsules once or twice daily
  • Miralax (polyethylene glycol) 17 GM (1 capful) once or twice daily
  • Milk of Magnesia (MOM or Magnesium Hydroxide) 30 ml once daily
  • Senokot 1-2 tablets once or twice daily

Always contact your healthcare provider’s office if you have not had a bowel movement in 3 days.  Occasionally, rectal interventions are recommended if the above measures are not effective.  Rectal interventions are as follows:

  • Suppositories
  • Enemas
  • Rectal irrigation
  • Manual evacuation