“Is Constipation After Heart Surgery Normal?” Asks Dahlia

By Adam Pick on May 6, 2009

I just received a very important question from Dahlia about constipation and heart surgery.

She writes, “Adam – I’m quite embarrassed to be writing you about this but I just had mitral valve replacement surgery due to prolapse and leaky mitral valve. It’s been two weeks since my surgery and I’m incredibly constipated. Is constipation after heart surgery normal? Do you have any advice? Thanks, Dahlia”



Dahlia has ab-sooooooo-lutely nothing to be embarrassed about. So you know, it is very common for patients to experience constipation… And, it can be quite dangerous.

“Why?” you might be wondering.

Well. It turns out that one of the side effects of pain medication (e.g. Vicodin) is constipation. I personally experienced this following my aortic valve replacement surgery. I’ll spare you the details. But, I can tell you (and Robyn, my wife, can tell you) that I was really, really, really troubled by this patient issue.

Specific to the dangers of constipation after heart surgery, Jennifer Heisler, a registered nurse, noted, “In heart surgery patients, straining from constipation can cause stress on incisions, both internal and external, and in extreme cases, it can cause the incisions to open. Open heart surgery patients can be at particular risk from constipation as the heart is still recovering from surgery and cannot tolerate the changes in heart rhythm that straining from constipation can cause.”



To remedy this situation, consider using Peri-Colace, a stool softener that works (trust me!).  Peri-Colace is an over-the-counter medication available at most drug stores. I think it costs about $8 and there are cheaper, white label options at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVC.

If that doesn’t help, I would encourage you to contact your cardiologist or surgeon to get a prescription for a more powerful form of stool softener.

I hope this helps you learn more about constipation after heart surgery.

Keep on tickin’ and poopin’!

Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick, Heart Valve Patient Advocate

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded HeartValveSurgery.com to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded HeartValveSurgery.com to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Joan Parkinson says on May 6th, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Hi Dahlia,
I was given a stool softener in the hospital and instructed to continue to use it until I got back to ‘normal’ so to speak. Another constipating culpert is the iron suppliment which I am still taking 3 months after surgery.

Prunes to you.

Joan Parkinson

Vernon Young says on May 6th, 2009 at 2:02 pm

It’s been 9 months since my surgery. I was placed on a cholesterol drug called lipitor. Great drug but has one major problem… constipation. But I seemed to be able to deal with it by taking a mild laxative/stool softener called Ducalax. Following surgery, I was majorly constipated. I think the food that they provide heart patients is fiber-free. Because by the time I was released, I was wondering how I was ever going to eliminate waste again in my life. The Ducalax helped. Miralax helped a lot more. My doctor suggested that I take this OTC drug. It was formerly a prescription item. But it works… works… works!!!

John V. Dunne says on May 6th, 2009 at 2:21 pm

For post -op constipation, Dulcolax suppositories and /or 2 ounces of Milk of Magnesia daily are very helpful. I am a surgeon and found these to be very helpful following my aortic valve replacement. I agree that straining can be very dangerous in the post-op period.

Leslie says on May 6th, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Yes, Colace was sent home with me and “regularly” prescribed for the first two months at home. I am fortunate I do not recall having this problem. But I do remember the staff at UCLA Med Center becoming increasingly concerned that I had not had a bowel movement before it was time to go home. I was asked that question 6 times a day in the last 2 days (it didn’t bother me – I was barely eating anything anyway) and asked if I wanted a laxative etc. Finally on the morning I was discharged magic struck! I never saw a nursing staff so happy. They are VERY unhappy if you don’t use the facilities before you leave!

Midge says on May 6th, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Yep, agree with the above. I’m 11 weeks post op from aortic valve replacement and last week finally felt my elimination system had returned almost to normal. The stool softeners are good but think you need to take them daily for a period of time to keep the system moving properly.


SpikeSpriesterbach says on May 6th, 2009 at 5:33 pm

I must join the crowd. My surgeon prescribed 325 mg of Iron 3 times a day. To get to the nitty-gritty, it cause constipation and a very dark stool which had me worrying about blood loss. (tarry stool) which did occur later because of my reluctance to go to the lab and caused numerous problems.

In the hospital, they did give me stool softeners and encouraged me to eat. (bland and nasty food. I wanted a hamburger) When I finally had a passage, I felt like mommy was praising me.

Eight months after surgery, I’m still taking 350mg of iron a day but I have added psyllium and everything at that end seems to be working fine. My God, I can’t believe I’m talking about this but if it helps someone, so be it!

Adam Pick says on May 6th, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Thanks everybody!!!

These are fantastic anti-constipation remedies.


Keep on tickin!


Yasmin says on December 18th, 2010 at 9:14 am

My dad had aortic valve,aortic root and ascending aorta replacement and basal septal myectomy.Dad stayed in the ICU for 10 days and then in the ward 5 days.Dad is refusing to walk and complains that he gets tired after walking for 3minutes.He spends the whole day sitting on the chair and walks only to the bathroom about 8 times for bowel motions and after most times he says he has constipation and he comes out of the bathroom very tired.I do not know what should I do!Plus he experienced sweating once from his head to the shoulders.Please may anyone advise me as to what is happening with my dad.Dad is not even sleeping on his bed,he just naps all day on the chair.

john murray says on June 28th, 2017 at 3:55 am

Make sure your father gets his kidneys checked my father had the same symtoms it was too much medication it nearly killed him too much potassium my father was on 8 different tabs the hospital took him off 6 now he,s much more energetic

Leave a Reply

Newest Community Post

David says, "So far, great news is that my heart is"
Read more

Andrew says, "Got to enjoy the simple things in life"
Read more

David says, "Hello all!  I received a shirt as a"
Read more

Find Heart Valve Surgeons

Search 1,500 patient-recommended surgeons