It is not uncommon for patients to have constipation after surgery. There are obvious reasons for it, including changes in diet, inactivity and stress but the most common one comes as a side effect from postoperative pain medications, especially opioids.

For starters, normal bowel movements are different for everyone. For some, several bowel movements a day are normal, while for others a few a week are normal. So, constipation is when your bowel movements are less frequent than what is normal for you.

Generally what is considered normal stool is soft, formed and can be controlled.

Constipation and impaction can lead to straining. Straining to force a bowel movement can cause problems, such as: unusual heart rhythms, hemorrhoids, shortness of breath and in surgery patients, straining can cause stress on incisions.

It’s much easier to prevent constipation than deal with it once it starts.

For starters, drink more fluids, like water and juice. The recommended daily intake of water is typically about 64 ounces but this may not be enough when taking opioids, so try to have a bit more. Avoid caffeinated beverages.

Increase your fiber intake. Eating fruits and vegetables as close to their natural state as possible is best but you can also add fiber to your diet with fiber supplements. Avoid foods that cause constipation, like cheese and lots of meat. Small, frequent meals will help you have regular bowel movements.

Physical activity decreases risk of constipation and it can be as simple an activity as walking. Follow your surgeon’s instructions if you have limits on exercise.

Your surgeon may prescribe a stool softener to take along with your pain medication. Be sure to follow instructions. Make sure to also discuss over-the-counter treatments with your doctor before taking them. Some bowel stimulants can be hard on the body after surgery.

It can take your bowels and GI tract a few days to fully recover from anesthesia and post-surgery constipation and if you had a bowel prep prior to surgery (before doing tummy tuck for example), you might need a little more tome to become regular again.