Post Op Constipation: Beating Bowel Backup After Surgery
Digestive distress or “irregularity” can really put a damper on any day. But, a bowel backup after surgery can be an even bigger bummer. Being bedridden AND bloated is no fun at all, but unfortunately, it’s a common post-op conundrum. This gut-rut typically lasts between 24 to 72 hours and involves symptoms like constipation, excessive gas, or a combination of both.
So why does surgery often lead to a stressed-out stomach? Well, the standard pre and post-op protocol tends to be a recipe for digestion disaster. Let’s take a look at these belly blunders:
- Fasting and liquid restriction. It makes sense that when food isn’t coming in to stimulate digestion, the GI system slows down; you’ve given it the day off from normal digestive duties. On top of that, our intestines rely on liquids to lubricate the gut and keep things moving. So, less fluid and no food before surgery means that digestion is going to look something like a major traffic jam during peak rush hour.
- Inactivity. Rest and recuperation are really your best bet when focusing on recovery. However, when you slow down, so does your digestion. Walking and even just standing play a role in pushing things along in your gut, so reduced activity tends to mean reduced regularity.
- Medication. The meds that make an appearance around surgery including general anesthesia and opioids/narcotics help with pain management. Unfortunately, one of the common side effects of these drugs is that they can wreak havoc on digestion. In fact, studies show that up to 40% of patients will experience opioid-induced constipation! That stat, plus the constipating effects of anethesia, explains why many patients just can’t “go” after surgery.
But fear not, we’ve got some tummy-saving tips to help kick post-op constipation to the curb!
A Body in Motion Puts a Bowel in Motion
Once your doctor has given you the go ahead, it’s time to get moving! Following a procedure, adding some approved activity will provide a host of benefits, including increased intestinal motility and stomach emptying. Any movement that gets the blood flowing post-op will wake-up a groggy GI tract so it can begin contracting.
Studies show that physical activity goes right along with good gut health, so it’s important to get active ASAP (under the guidance of your physician). A few great ways to get moving include short walks, periodic stand-up breaks every few hours (or every few Netflix episodes), and gentle stretches to keep your joints lubricated and your muscles pliable. If you’re bound to bedrest, put yourself on a schedule to lift and lower your unimpaired limbs every so often to keep blood flowing. And hey, maybe flapping your wings or fluttering your legs will give you a good belly laugh, which will certainly be good for your gut!
Focus on the Foods
When you’re dealing with post-op constipation, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is adding more “inventory” to a stocked shelf. However, boosting your diet with certain foods can restart your system and help to regulate your gut.
There are a few things to consider when choosing your post-op snacks that’ll really boost your chances of beating the belly block:
- Avoid highly processed foods like refined grains (think white starches) and high-fat dairy products, especially if either has caused you tummy-trouble in the past. The last thing you want is to add a sour stomach to your list of post-surgery symptoms. Not feeling hungry? Learn more about stimulating your appetite after surgery here.
- Fuel up with fiber! Try to up the ante with fiber-rich foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains, since this nifty nutrient is infamous for its ability to get your digestion system dancing.
- Stay on track with snacks. Consuming regular mini-meals will keep your system working, without overloading it.
- Drink up! Dehydration is a known contributor to constipation, so an adequate fluid intake can make a huge difference after surgery. Just be sure to avoid beverages that’ll dig you into a deeper dehydration ditch, such as caffeinated sodas, teas, coffee, and of course, alcohol.
After surgery, making smart diet decisions will help tackle the post-op constipation calamity and put you on the path for smooth sailing through recovery.
SOS (Save Our Stomach) Supplements
There are many over-the-counter medications that can force your GI tract to get going, but these drugs do come with some side effects we prefer to avoid. Luckily, there are several alternatives that have been shown to push things along, naturally! Here are a few supplement superstars that’ll kickstart a constipated system:
- Magnesium citrate. This marvelous mineral does double duty to get things moving. By pulling water into your intestinal tract and relaxing those same muscles, magnesium is like a natural “drain cleaner” for your body.
- Psyllium husk powder. As a fiber powerhouse, this supplement works on both the small and large intestine, bulking up your stool to initiate a contraction while creating a gel-like lubricant to slide things along (literally).
- Probiotics. While bacteria have often been given a bad name, the “good” kind play an important role in maintaining a healthy gut. These little buggers make up part of your intestinal microbiome, making sure things stay in balance. When post op antibiotics begin to kill them off, the scale can tip towards a GI tract that’s overrun by the “bad” bacteria, leading to an intestinal armageddon. Maintaining gut harmony is crucial to keeping post op constipation at bay, so adding a probiotic can redirect an off-kilter digestive system.
When it comes to surgery, there are a lot of things to keep track of, both pre and post op. The last thing you want to be burdened with is a clogged up colon or bowel barricade! So, while constipation may not always be avoidable, there are simple ways to manage this digestive dilemma.