Unfortunately, constipation is a common side effect of surgery. It can happen for a few different reasons: the anesthesia used during the procedure, pain medications you’re taking or how much and what you’re eating and drinking.
Opioid medications are often used to manage pain after surgery, but they commonly cause constipation. Studies show that 40 to 95% of patients taking these medications will experience this side effect. To minimize it, anesthesiologists at HSS carefully construct a pain medication plan using different types of drugs, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen), opioids, anesthetic medications and medications for nerve pain. This is done to maximize pain relief and minimize the use of opioids, as well as their side effects.
If you have concerns before your surgery about constipation, the best thing to do is to ask your surgeon or care team about it. Some other things to try:
At HSS, we conduct a thorough medication education session when preparing to send patients home. A nurse goes over all prescriptions, explaining how to take each medication to effectively manage constipation at home. Wherever you have your surgery, be sure you know how to properly take your medications to avoid this side effect before you go home.
If additional questions arise, at HSS, our clinical pharmacists are available to come to patients’ rooms to give further explanation. During follow-up phone calls at home, patients can speak with the nurse and bring up any additional concerns or questions.
At home, there are a couple of general rules to follow to help prevent or manage constipation:
Bloating in the belly after surgery is quite common and could be a result of trapped gas or excess fluids. The fluids will leave your body naturally within a few days; trapped gas may resolve as you have a bowel movement. There are techniques to relieve this discomfort, including simethicone; ask your care team about this if you need additional help.