Canterbury DHB



Constipation is common in advanced disease and can cause many distressing symptoms – colicky abdominal pain, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, urinary retention, anxiety and in some elderly patients may cause confusion.

Consider the causes of constipation. While opioids may be the primary cause in palliative patients, other contributing factors could include reduced mobility, dehydration, hypercalcaemia, neurological deficits and drugs such as anti-cholinergics or ondansetron.

Prevention is the key, and the need to treat constipation is usually due to a failure of prevention.

It should be anticipated when patients are taking opioids or anticholinergic drugs and it is imperative in these patients to prescribe prophylactic laxatives. “The hand that charts the morphine, charts the laxatives”.

A rectal examination must be carried out on all patients to decide on appropriate treatment required.

See flowchart: Management of Constipation Associated with Opioid Use.

See Procedure for rectal examination and suppositories

In This Section



Severe Constipation


  1. Bowel Softeners
  2. Bowel Stimulants
  3. Stimulant/Softener Combinations - commonly used in Palliative Care:
  4. Osmotic Laxatives



Severe Constipation

About this Canterbury DHB document (4097):

Document Owner:

Kate Grundy (see Who's Who)

Issue Date:

March 2016

Next Review:

March 2018


Note: Only the electronic version is controlled. Once printed, this is no longer a controlled document. Disclaimer

Topic Code: 4097