Constipation is common in the palliative population. Opioid medications, which are frequently prescribed to this cohort, represent a significant risk factor for this condition. Opioid-induced constipation may be of such severity that opioid doses are reduced or missed, and analgesia and quality of life are therefore reduced. However, underlying chronic constipation, local and systemic disease effects, and other medications may also precipitate constipation in this population. The assessment and treatment of constipation in a palliative individual should be undertaken in a fashion similar to that used in non-palliative patients. Initial management should include minimising exposure to predisposing factors and general measures such as encouraging hydration, fibre intake and mobility. Pharmacological treatment should commence with a stool softener and a stimulant laxative. Recently published literature demonstrates that newer laxatives, including lubiprostone (a chloride channel activator) and prucalopride (a 5-HT4 receptor agonist) can effectively treat opioid-induced constipation. For patients not responding to laxatives, opioid antagonists (non-specific or peripherally acting μ-opioid receptor antagonists) can be co-prescribed with laxatives. These agents have also proven efficacy in treating opioid-induced constipation. This review discusses the recent literature regarding the management of opioid-induced constipation and provides a rational approach to assessing and managing constipation in the palliative population.
Keywords: Constipation; Methylnaltrexone; Naloxone; Opioids; Palliative Care.