Constipation, costiveness, or irregularity, is a condition of the digestive system in which a person experiences hard feces that are difficult to expel.
- This usually happens because the colon absorbs too much water from the food. If the food moves through the gastro-intestinal tract too slowly, the colon may absorb too much water, resulting in feces that are dry and hard.
- Defecation may be extremely painful, and in severe cases (fecal impaction) lead to symptoms of bowel obstruction.
Causes of constipation:
- may be dietary
- anatomical a side effect of medications (e.g. some opiates)
- or an illness or disorder.
- Fewer than three bowel movements per week, abdominal distention, and pain and pressure
- Decreased appetite, headache, fatigue, indigestion, sensation of incomplete emptying
- Straining at stool; elimination of small volume of hard, dry stool
- Complications such as hypertension, hemorrhoids and ﬁssures, fecal impaction, and megacolon
Assessment and Diagnostic Methods
- Diagnosis is based on history, physical examination, possibly a barium enema or sigmoidoscopy, stool for occult blood, anorectal manometry (pressure studies), defecography, and colonic transit studies.
- Newer tests such as pelvic ﬂoor MRI may identify occult pelvic ﬂoor defects.
- Treatment should target the underlying cause of constipation and aim to prevent recurrence, including education, bowel habit training, increased ﬁber and ﬂuid intake, and judicious use of laxatives.
- Discontinue laxative abuse; increase ﬂuid intake; include ﬁber in diet; try biofeedback, exercise routine to strengthen abdominal muscles.
- If laxative is necessary, use bulk-forming agents, saline and osmotic agents, lubricants, stimulants, or fecal softeners.
- Speciﬁc medication therapy to increase intrinsic motor function (eg, cholinergics, cholinesterase inhibitors, or prokinetic agents).
Use tact and respect with patient when talking about bowel habits and obtaining health history.
Note the following:
- Onset and duration of constipation, current and past elimination patterns, patient’s expectation of normal bowel elimination, and lifestyle information (eg, exercise and activity level, occupation, food and ﬂuid intake, and stress level).
- Past medical and surgical history, current medications, history of laxative or enema use.
- Report of any of the following: rectal pressure or fullness, abdominal pain, straining at defecation, and ﬂatulence.
- Sets specific goals for teaching; goals for the patient include restoring or maintaining a regular pattern of elimination by responding to the urge to defecate, ensuring adequate intake of fluids and high fiber foods, learning about methods to avoid constipation, relieving anxiety about bowel elimination patterns, and avoiding complications.
Nursing Care Plan
May be related to
- Functional Recent environmental changes; habitual denial or ignoring of urge to defecate; insufficient physical activity; irregular defecation habits; inadequate toileting, abdominal muscle weakness
- Psychological Depression; emotional stress; mental confusion
- Pharmacological Antilipemic agents; laxative overdose; calcium carbonate; aluminum-containing antacids; nonsteroidal antiinflammatory agents; opiates; anticholinergics; diuretics; iron salts; phenothiazides; sedatives; sympathomimetics; bismuth salts; antidepressants; calcium channel blockers
- Mechanical Rectal abscess or ulcer; pregnancy; rectal anal fissures; tumors; megacolon (Hirschsprung’s disease); electrolyte imbalance; rectal prolapse; prostate enlargement; neurological impairment; rectal anal stricture; rectocele; postsurgical obstruction; hemorrhoids; obesity
- Physiological Poor eating habits; decreased motility of gastrointestinal tract; inadequate dentition or oral hygiene; insufficient fiber intake; insufficient fluid intake; change in usual foods and eating patterns; dehydration
- Maintains passage of soft, formed stool every 1 to 3 days without straining
- States relief from discomfort of constipation
- Identifies measures that prevent or treat constipation
- Observe usual pattern of defecation including time of day, amount and frequency of stool, consistency of stool, history of bowel habits or laxative use; diet including fluid intake; exercise patterns; personal remedies for constipation; obstetrical/gynecological history; surgeries; alterations in perianal sensation; present bowel regimen.
- Rationale: There often are multiple reasons for constipation; the first step is assessment of usual patterns of bowel elimination.
- Have the client or family keep a diary of bowel habits including time of day; usual stimulus; consistency, amount, and frequency of stool; fluid consumption; and use of any aids to defecation.
- Rationale: A diary of bowel habits is valuable in treatment of constipation.
- Review client’s current medications.
- Rationale: Many medications affect normal bowel function, including opiates, antidepressants, antihypertensives, anticholinergics, diuretics, anticonvulsants, antacids containing aluminum, iron supplements, and muscle relaxants.
- Palpate for abdominal distention, percuss for dullness, and auscultate bowel sounds.
- Rationale: In clients with constipation the abdomen is often distended with a palpable colon.
- Check for impaction; perform digital removal per physician’s order. If impaction is present, use cleansing regimen until you obtain a very soft stool. If using an enema, the client must be able to bodily retain the fluid. If the client has poor sphincter tone, use a cone tip irrigating bag to assist the client in retaining the fluids.
- Rationale: This also decreases the amount of fluid necessary for cleansing.
- Provide privacy for defecation. Assist the client to the bathroom and close the door if possible.
- Rationale: Bowel elimination is a very private act, and a lack of privacy can contribute to constipation.
- Encourage fiber intake of 25 g/day for adults. Emphasize foods such as fresh fruits, beans, vegetables, and bran cereals. Add fiber to diet gradually.
- Rationale: Fiber helps prevent constipation by giving stool bulk. Add fiber to diet gradually because a sudden increase can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. A daily fiber intake of 25 g can increase frequency of stools in clients with constipation. Dietary supplements of fiber in the form of bran or wheat fiber are helpful for women experiencing constipation with pregnancy.
- Encourage a fluid intake of 1.5 to 2 L/day (6 to 8 glasses of liquids per day). If oral intake is low, gradually increase fluid intake. Fluid intake must be within the cardiac and renal reserve.
- Rationale: Adequate fluid intake is necessary to prevent hard, dry stools. Increasing fluid intake to 1.5 to 2 L/day along with fiber intake of 25 g can significantly increase frequency of stools in clients with constipation.
- Encourage client to be out of bed as soon as possible, and to own activities of daily living (ADLs) as able. Encourage exercises such as turning and changing positions in bed, lifting their hips off the bed, doing range of motion exercises, alternating lifting each knee to the chest, doing wheelchair lifts, doing waist twists, stretching arms away from body, and pulling in the abdomen while taking deep breaths.
- Rationale: Activity, even minimal, increases peristalsis, which is necessary to prevent constipation.
- At each meal, sprinkle bran over client’s food as allowed by client and prescribed diet. Ensure that client receives adequate fluid (1500 ml/day) along with bran.
- Rationale: The number of bowel movements is increased and the use of laxatives is decreased in a client who eats wheat bran. A study done on institutionalized elderly male clients with chronic constipation demonstrated that with bran use, clients were able to discontinue use of oral laxatives.
- Initiate a regular schedule for defecation, using the client’s normal evacuation time whenever possible. Offer hot coffee, hot lemon water, or prune juice before breakfast, or while sitting on the toilet if necessary. An optimal time for many individuals is 30 minutes after breakfast because of the gastrocolic reflex.
- Rationale: A schedule gives the client a sense of control, but more importantly it promotes evacuation before drying of stool and constipation occur. Hot liquids can stimulate peristasis and result in defecation.
- Emphasize to the client the necessary ingredients for a normal bowel regimen (e.g., fluid, fiber, activity, and regular schedule for defecation). Help client onto bedside commode or toilet with client’s hips flexed and feet flat. Have client deep breathe through mouth to encourage relaxation of the pelvic floor muscle and use the abdominal muscles to help evacuation.
- Provide laxatives, suppositories, and enemas as needed and as ordered only; establish a client goal of eliminating their use. Avoid soapsuds enemas, or use a low concentration of castile soap only. Use of laxatives should be avoided.
- Rationale: Soapsuds enemas can cause damage to the colonic mucosa. The use of a soapsuds enema was shown to increase stool output as compared with tap water enemas in preoperative liver transplant patients; amount of mucosal irritation was unknown.
- For the stable neurological client, consider use of a bowel routine of Therevac enema or suppositories every other day, or performing digital stimulation with physician’s permission. For persistent constipation, refer to physician for evaluation.
- Rationale: Use of the Therevac SB mini-enema was found to cut time needed for bowel care by as much as one hour or more as compared with use of suppositories.
- Explain the importance of fiber intake, fluid intake, and activity for soft, formed stool.
- Rationale: Fiber intake, fluid intake, and activity are often decreased in elderly clients. Increasing fiber and fluids can effectively prevent constipation in the elderly.
- Determine client’s perception of normal bowel elimination; promote adherence to a regular schedule.
- Rationale: Misconceptions regarding the frequency of bowel movements can lead to anxiety and overuse of laxatives.
- Explain Valsalva’s maneuver and the reason it should be avoided.
- Rationale: Valsalva’s maneuver can cause bradycardia and even death in cardiac patients.
- Respond quickly to client’s call for help with toileting.
- Avoid regular use of enemas in the elderly.
- Rationale: Enemas can cause fluid and electrolyte imbalances ( and damage to the colonic mucosa.
- Use opioids cautiously.
- Rationale: If ordered, use stool softeners and bran mixtures to prevent constipation. Use of opioids can cause constipation.
- Position client on toilet or commode and place a small footstool under the feet.
- Rationale: Placing a small footstool under the feet increases intraabdominal pressure and makes defecation easier for an elderly client with weak abdominal muscles.
Home Care Interventions
- Put client in bathroom to toilet when possible.
- Rationale: Bowel elimination is a very private act, and a lack of privacy can contribute to constipation.
- Carefully monitor bowel patterns of clients under pain management with opioids. Introduce a bowel management program at first sign of constipation.
- Rationale: Constipation is a major problem for terminally ill or hospice clients who may need very high doses of opioids for pain management.
- When using a bowel program, establish a pattern that is very regular and allows client to be part of family unit.
- Rationale: Regularity of program promotes psychological and/or physiological “readiness” to evacuate. Families of home care clients often cannot proceed with normal daily activities until bowel programs are complete.
Client/Family Teaching Nursing care plans For Constipation
- Instruct client on normal bowel function and the necessity of fluid, fiber, and activity in a bowel program.
- Encourage client to heed defecation warning signs and develop a regular schedule of defecation by using a stimulus such as a warm drink or prune juice.
- Rationale: Most cases of constipation are mechanical and result from habitual neglect of impulses that signal appropriate time for defecation. This results in accumulation of a large, dry fecal mass.
- Encourage client to avoid long-term use of laxatives and enemas and to gradually withdraw from their use if used regularly.
- If not contraindicated, teach client how to do bent-leg sit-ups to increase abdominal tone; also encourage client to contract abdominal muscles frequently throughout the day.
- Rationale: Help client develop a daily exercise program to increase peristalsis.