Is constipation after heart surgery normal?

Man with a bad stomach by a toilet

In the days following my heart surgery I had really bad constipation. Is this normal? 

BHF Senior Cardiac nurse Philippa Hobson says:

Yes, this is very common. Often people don’t want to talk about constipation, but bowel care is an important part of your recovery, and doctors, nurses and pharmacists are very used to talking about these issues.

Surgery involves anaesthetic drugs, and often strong painkillers afterwards. You’re likely to be less mobile than usual and may have a poor appetite. Any of these factors on their own can cause constipation, never mind in combination.

For some, shared toilets and less privacy in hospital makes the problem even worse. Some people avoid eating and drinking before their surgery, because they are worried they will lose control of their bladder or bowels during the operation, but this doesn’t happen.

Keep eating and drinking normally (apart from when you are told to fast in the hours before your procedure), otherwise this could make your constipation even worse. Try to drink regularly, as dehydration can cause constipation. Hot drinks in particular can help to get your bowels moving.

It is normal not to have a bowel movement for a few days after your operation. You’ll be given medication to help things along and so you don’t have to strain excessively. Walking around the ward as soon as you can after surgery will help your bowels to start moving normally.

If the problem persists, you can speak to your local community pharmacist for advice. They will also be able to provide you further treatment over the counter, such as glycerine suppositories, and you don’t need an appointment.

Photo of Philippa Hobson

Meet the expert

Philippa Hobson is a BHF Senior Cardiac nurse. She has more than 30 years of cardiac nursing experience, specialising in cardiac surgery, coronary care and cardiac rehab.


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