I hear it all of the time as a Physical Therapist. Many of our adult foster home residents and my patients sigh heavily and voice concern over taking narcotics, often due both to upset tummy’s, as well as some serious constipation. Many people have issues with bowel movements already, but throw in some pain medication, and you’re likely to be stopped up like an old shower drain. Let me tell you below what I know being in my line of work about constipation, what causes it, and how we can help get things moving! Use the information below to help yourself, a friend, or a family member.
Of course there are other causes of constipation that you should also try to rectify as best you can. Things like not drinking enough water and not exercising much will slow down all of the work your insides are trying to do. Older people in general tend to drink less water and move less, so motivating them to do both of these can be helpful. A sometimes simple fix is to cut back on foods that often lead to halting your guts, like eggs and cheese. Also be on the lookout if a loved one takes an anti depressant medication, as some doctors say that certain anti depressants can have the nasty side effect of constipation.
The issue I see the most though, is acute constipation with people taking pain medication, as the reason people are in Physical Therapy is because of pain. When a person is prescribed a narcotic, it is typically for a darn good reason, and the person should take it as prescribed. If the modifications suggested below are not helpful for you or a loved one, then make sure to get back in contact with your health care professional, as there are other pain medication options you could try. Most people end up with a catch 22, with the option of either feeling the pain from the injury, the treatment, or the disease, and/or the pain of being constipated. Along with trying to crank up your water intake and up your exercising (even gentle moving will help), I found a great article with some quick and easy options to add fiber into your diet. Changing someone’s diet can be tricky, changing a person who has had the same diet for 75 years… even trickier. Teaching an old dog new tricks definitely isn’t easy, but it can be done!!! Change/add only one or two foods at a time.
For those that do not like water, you can add some fresh squeezed lemon/lime juice or wedge to the water. Sometimes you can dilute their favorite juice with water. There are products that allow you to squeeze a variety of flavors into water, there is flavored water and flavored carbonated water too. Here are some of the quick and easy ideas for adding some fiber to a diet that I liked from an article I recently read. Hopefully you too, can take home some pointers and help yourself or a senior loved one add a little extra fiber into their diet. There’s additional information in this link to specific high fiber foods and the amount (in grams) of fiber you or your loved one should shoot to attain. This will also hopefully help decrease some anxiety with taking those darn pain pills!
Serve an easy to make fruit salad.
Eat a fresh orange rather than drinking juice.
Eat the skins of apples and pears.
Don’t peel your potatoes — include the skins that also contain the most nutrition.
Buy 100-percent whole grain breads instead of refined white bread.
Add more vegetables to your stews or soup.
Choose bran muffins instead of chocolate chip muffins.
Snack on nuts, which are rich in fiber and healthy fats.
Add fresh berries to your favorite yogurt.
Substitute whole wheat flour for half of the white flour in your recipes.
Eat oatmeal or oat cereals for breakfast and add some flax seeds for some healthy fats.
Serve baked beans as a side dish.
So get to packing that fridge full of berries while they are still in season and start leaving a few bowls of nuts on the tables around your (or their) home. These are great ways to sneak in just a little extra fiber that may make things a little… easier.
Of course, if you or a loved one have additional questions or are suffering from severe or chronic constipation, go talk to a medical professional so they can do the full work up and provide you with additional means of combating this frustrating issue!