Understanding what to expect from mesothelioma treatment can be confusing and difficult to understand. Patients and family members seek out the latest cutting-edge research and clinical trials in which to participate with the goal to increase quality time with their loved ones. But, regardless of the selected treatment, care comes with its own set of issues. Some of the common issues that mesothelioma patients face are pain, shortness of breath, fluid status issues, and depression.
One of the problems that occurs all too frequently for mesothelioma patients, but no one wants to talk about, is constipation. Constipation is emotionally upsetting and embarrassing to discuss. But, this common problem that can be daunting to patients and families dealing with mesothelioma treatment is vital to recognize and immediately address.
According to the National Institutes of Health and the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, the definition of constipation is a “condition in which a person has fewer than three bowel movements a week or has bowel movements with stools that are hard, dry, and small, making them painful or difficult to pass.” Everyone is different, and for some people, not going once a day may make them think they are constipated.
This condition is very common with 15% of the U.S. population being affected, and is very common post-surgery. The most common causes for constipation are a diet low in fiber; a lack of exercise; medications, especially pain medications; and changes in daily routine. Post-surgery pleural mesothelioma patients, or any post-surgery patients, can have all of these factors.
Treatment for constipation can include a change in diet and exercise habits, or change of medication. When taking pain medication, it is very important to be aware of the possibility of constipation. Laxatives are usually ordered by your physician and should be taken along with the pain medications. Common laxatives are available by mouth and come in many different forms, including pills, liquid, and powder.
Constipation might seem like a minor problem, but left unrecognized and untreated, serious complications can arise. As an example, a patient I called recently was constipated with a distended abdomen and he felt miserable. He had to be readmitted to the hospital for care. He and his family had been so focused on pain and fluid restriction that constipation snuck up on them.
Mesothelioma patients and families need to realize how this common problem is one that they should be aware of and discuss with their mesothelioma team. When dealing with a complicated disease like mesothelioma it is important to remember the basics and the role they play in a successful recovery.