7 Self-Care Tips for Managing Painkiller-Induced Constipation

  • variety-of-pills-in-hand
    Don’t get stuck with uncomfortable side effects.
    Painkillers, particularly opioids like morphine and hydrocodone, can cause a variety of side effects—and one of the most uncomfortable side effects is constipation. Many doctors recommend that you take a preventive approach to dealing with painkiller-induced constipation. Start treating it early so your body and bowels don’t get too bogged down from the get-go. Fortunately, there are several simple tips you can try to keep things moving.



  • Pills
    1. Take a laxative and stool softener.
    One of the best strategies for side-stepping constipation is to anticipate it: begin using a stool softener and laxative as soon as you start taking pain medication. Not all laxative products work the same way, so ask your doctor what he or she recommends using. Many experts suggest a stool softener like Colace and a non-fiber, stimulant laxative like Senokot or Dulcolax. Be advised: without proper hydration, over-the-counter bulk laxatives like Benefiber, Citrucel and Metamucil have the potential to make your opioid-related constipation worse and could cause bowel blockages. Make sure you're drinking plenty of water while taking bulk laxatives to ensure that they're helping and not hurting.



  • Hydration, exercise, water, drinking water
    2. Drink lots of water.
    Water keeps your bowels soft and moving smoothly. Experts recommend drinking at least 64 ounces of water a day to promote healthy bowel movements. If you’re recovering from a surgery or experiencing severe pain, you may not feel like consuming that much fluid, but it’s an easy way to avoid constipation naturally. The goal is to have one bowel movement every 1 to 2 days, so keep sipping until your body gets back on a regular schedule.



  • Fiber Rich Foods
    3. Eat food that’s good for your gut.
    Though fiber laxatives can be hard on your digestive system, eating a natural diet of fiber-rich foods can help you combat constipation and keep you regular even after you’ve stopped taking painkillers. Try to consume 18 to 30 grams of fiber each day from fresh fruits, vegetables and cereals. Remember that if you increase your fiber intake, you also need to drink more fluids to keep your system flush.



  • Walking
    4. Keep your body moving.
    Your bowels aren’t the only part of your body that needs to be active. Physical exercise is essential to keeping your internal systems in shape. If you can walk, aim for taking two 15-minute walks, five days a week. If your pain or recovery limits your mobility, talk to your doctor about exercises you can do while sitting or lying down. Getting your blood pumping will help your bowels work better.



  • Bathroom sign
    5. Don’t ignore the urge.
    Bathroom habits can be awkward to manage, but try to adopt this motto: “if you gotta go, then you gotta go.” Postponing a bowel movement will only prolong your constipation. Don’t let the fear of embarrassment in a public restroom or friend’s powder room cause you to put your personal health at risk. You can always carry a travel-sized air freshener with you to clear the air. 



  • woman holding toilet paper
    6. Plan better bathroom breaks.
    In addition to listening to your body’s urges, you should encourage your gut to relax and let loose by planning regular bathroom breaks. Find a spot where you feel comfortable, take your time and let nature do its thing. The best time to grab a seat is shortly after a meal. You can also try drinking 8 ounces of a warm or hot liquid before your bathroom break to encourage a more productive session.



  • foot-stool
    7. Grab a step stool.
    Here’s one last tip that might surprise you: when you sit down on the toilet, rest your feet on a low stool so your knees are above your hips. That way, gravity and physics can help your body naturally work through your constipation troubles. Once your digestive system is on a regular schedule again, maintain these healthy habits to keep your tummy on track all the time.



7 Self-Care Tips for Managing Painkiller-Induced Constipation

About The Author

Elizabeth has been writing for Healthgrades since 2014 and specializes in articles about alternative and complementary therapies like meditation, yoga, energy work and aromatherapy. She also performs improv comedy and is a firm believer that laughter really is the best medicine.

  1. Pain Relief, Opiods, and Constipation. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/pain-relief-opioids-and-constipation

  2. Management of Common Opiod-Induced Adverse Effects. American Family Physician. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2006/1015/p1347.html

  3. NHS Choices. Constipation - Treatment. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Constipation/Pages/Treatment.aspx


  4. How to prevent constipation caused by your medicines. Group Health. https://provider.ghc.org/open/caringForOurMembers/patientHealthEducation/conditionsDiseases/constipa...

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Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 22
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