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Constipation and sickle cell disease


Constipation is when having a bowel movement is difficult or hurts. It happens when the material in the bowel (poop) gets dry and hard. This makes bowel movements take a lot of effort. They can be uncomfortable or even hurt.

What causes constipation?

Medicines called “opioids” are one cause of constipation. These medicines include morphine, codeine, and hydrocodone with acetaminophen. If your child takes these medicines for sickle cell pain, he might get constipated.

Other causes of constipation are:

  • Not drinking enough water,
  • Not being active, and
  • Not eating enough fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Relieving constipation is important because it can be painful. It can also lead to a more serious condition called “impaction.” This is a buildup of hard, compressed material inside the body. 

How do I know if my child is constipated?

You can tell by how often your child has a bowel movement, what it looks like, and if it is easy or difficult to have the movement.

What is a normal bowel movement?

  • How often? Most people have a bowel movement at least one (1) time each day. Some people go 2 or 3 times a day.
  • What color?  Most bowel movements are brown, but the color might change depending on what your child eats.
  • What shape? The bowel movement should be soft and have a shape. But it should not look like small pellets. Also, it should not look runny or liquid.
  • Easy or difficult? Your child should not have to make a lot of effort to have a bowel movement.  

The pictures below show 2 bowel movements. The picture on the left shows a normal bowel movement (poop). The picture on the right is an example of constipation. The bowel movement looks dry and hard. 

Normal bowel movement

Normal, soft bowel movement with a shape, but not runny

Hard, dry bowel movement

Hard, dry bowel movement with constipation

Learn what is normal for your child. This includes how often he normally has a bowel movement. It also includes the normal color, shape, and size. If you notice changes or your child does not have a bowel movement for several days, tell the doctor. Also, tell the doctor if your child’s bowel movements turn black. If this happens, they could have blood in them.

How is constipation treated?

To help constipation, try these ideas:

  • Add fiber to your child’s diet – Foods with a lot of fiber include fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, and whole grain cereals and breads.
  • Have your child drink more fluids, especially fruit juices.
  • Have your child get more active – Playing and walking more can help.

Talk to your child’s doctor or nurse if these changes do not help. The doctor might give your child medicine to help with constipation. Do not give your child any medications without talking to the doctor first.


If you have questions about constipation and sickle cell disease, please talk to the Hematology staff.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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