Nursing Interventions for Constipation


Nursing Interventions for 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. 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. A diary of bowel habits is valuable in treatment of constipation.
  • Review client's current medications. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.