Constipation

Not being able to pass stools regularly can be very uncomfortable

Constipation (not being able to pass stools regularly) can often be very uncomfortable and may make you feel full and sick. It can be caused by:

  • Some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, biological therapy and surgery to the stomach or bowel
  • Anti-sickness and pain medications 
  • Not eating enough fibre
  • Not drinking enough fluid
  • Not doing enough physical activity

The advice below may not be appropriate if constipation is caused by a tumour obstructing the stomach or bowel. If you are concerned, speak to your doctor or dietician before making any changes to your diet.

What can help?

Eating a high-fibre diet

Fibre helps to keep our bowel movements regular. Eating more high-fibre food may help to relieve constipation. Have a look at our shopping list for high-fibre food ideas.

Your shopping list

High-fibre foods

  • Wholegrain, granary or wholemeal breads
  • Fruit and vegetables (with edible skin or peel on)
  • Oats
  • Wholegrain breakfast cereal
  • Brown rice and wholewheat pasta
  • Dried fruit
  • Seeds and nuts, like linseeds
  • Pulses, like beans, peas and lentils
  • Rye, digestive or bran biscuits and crackers 

Drinking enough fluid

It is important to drink plenty of fluid, particularly when eating more fibre as not drinking enough can make constipation worse. As a guide, aim to drink at least two litres (3.5 pints) a day – this is at least 10­–14 glasses. However, if you aren’t able to eat as much as you usually would, it may be best to discuss how much you should drink with your doctor or dietitian.

Some people find that having a warm drink when they wake up helps to get their bowel moving. 

Keeping active

Keep as active as possible and, if you can, avoid spending too much time sitting or lying down. Some regular gentle exercise, such as going for a short walk every day, can help keep your bowel movements regular.

If things don’t seem to be improving, see your doctor. They may be able to prescribe laxatives. If you have bowel cancer, speak to your dietitian or doctor for advice before making any changes to your diet, as a high-fibre diet can make symptoms worse.

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