Bed Rest Constipation

By Dr. Ritu Krishnatreye, B.H.M.S.

Bed rest constipation

Bed rest is many times a necessary part of the healing process. 

Unfortunately, a few days of immobility can result in numerous physical problems, including constipation.

Let me explain why bed rest can result in constipation, and give you some ways to prevent constipation when you find yourself flat on your back.


Causes of Bed Rest Constipation

Basically, constipation is the presence of hard, dry stool that may be difficult to pass.

There are several factors that contribute to bed rest constipation. 

  • Decreased mobility lessens the peristaltic, wave-like contractions of the colon. This in turn leads to an incomplete emptying of the bowels and a dryer stool.

  • Bedridden patients tend to eat less, which leads to longer stool transit times, and constipation.

  • Many times bed bound patients are on medications, which may negatively affect regular bowel movements.

  • Drugs like Antiarrhythmics, blood pressure medications, anti-depressants, antacids and anti-Parkinson drugs can cause constipation.

Overcoming Bed Rest Constipation

There are a number of things that someone who is confined to bed rest can do to avoid constipation.


Diet is the most important factor to relieve symptoms of constipation.

The diet of someone who is bedridden should have 25 to 35 grams of dietary fiber (both soluble and insoluble).

  • Soluble fiber is found in fruits, beans, vegetables, salads and porridge

  • Insoluble fiber is found in wholemeal bread, brown bread and bran. 

Fiber has the tendency to absorb water and hold it. This adds moisture to stool, which in turn facilitates defecation.

Most fiber is not digested, which adds bulk to stool. This bulk is what stimulates peristalsis.

It is also important to stay hydrated, since dehydration is a major cause of constipation.


There is no doubt that activity helps in maintaining proper peristaltic movements.

For those confined to bed rest, their physical activity is reduced, which hinders normal bowel movements.

Whenever possible, those confined to bed rest should be assisted to exercise while in bed. With some assistance, mild exercises may be possible, and can help in adding a bit of activity to one's daily routine.

Simple exercises such as turning the patient or sitting them up on a chair may even be helpful. 

Correct posture while defecating 

If the patient is able to get out of bed to go to the bathroom, assuming the correct position on the toilet can help with the evacuation of the colon.

Those helping the patient should check that the patient is sitting correctly on the toilet, with feet elevated so that knees are drawn up towards the chest. This will help to raise the intra-abdominal pressure during defecation.

Placing a foot stool in front of the toilet and placing the patient’s feet on the foot stool will help him or her in assuming the more anatomically correct position.

Home remedies

There are several tried and tested home remedies which may work in relieving the symptoms of constipation.

  • Prune, fig and raisin tea is a good way to start the day. Mix equal quantities of figs and prunes and two tablespoons of raisins in a saucepan. Now add two pints of water in the saucepan and let it simmer for 30 minutes.

  • Fruit bran tea is another effective remedy for constipation. Mix 2 tablespoon of bran and 2 oz of chopped figs or raisins in a jug.

    Add four cups of water to it and cover the jug with a lid. In the morning, strain the essence and drink it either hot or cold. There are also other teas that may help with constipation.

  • Flax seeds, parsley and lemon juice are some of the other home remedies that can help with constipation. 


A magnesium supplement

Here is a great way to treat the symptoms of bed rest constipation. 

Magnesium is a beneficial salt for dealing with constipation. Once it reaches the colon, it functions as a natural osmotic laxative, drawing water into the colon, which in turn adds moisture to stool.

This added moisture does the following:

  • Makes stool soft, slippery and easier to pass

  • Makes stool bulkier, which is needed to stimulate peristalsis, the wave-like contractions the colon uses to move stool along

  • Helps a tense colon to relax, balancing out the muscle tightening effect of calcium. This helps to restore normal peristalsis

Magnesium sulfate is found most commonly in ocean water.

Magnesium sulfate is not readily absorbed by the body, which means it makes it to the colon to help fight constipation.

Sea water also contains magnesium chloride, which is more readily absorbed by the body. Since most Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diet, getting a little extra magnesium may lead to certain health benefits


If the above mentioned remedies are not working, laxatives are offered to treat constipation symptoms.

A variety of laxatives are available for treating constipation. Stimulant laxatives, saline laxatives, hyperosmolar laxatives, and bulk forming laxatives are some of the more common types used by health care providers.

Your healthcare provider can help you choose the best one for you.

Most laxatives are habit forming, and are not recommended for prolonged use.

Conclusion, bed rest constipation

Bed rest can often lead to constipation, which can be awkward and frustrating. The above treatments are all great ways to alleviate or avoid constipation in the first place while on bed rest.

(Return from Bed Rest Constipation to Causes of Constipation)

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