Researchers Examine Effectiveness Of Various Constipation Treatments

Megan Ray  |  July 24, 2014

Many older adults live with chronic constipation, an illness that becomes more common as one ages. According to the National Institutes of Health, constipation is among the most common gastrointestinal complaints in the U.S., accounting for more than 2.5 million doctor's visits every year. Women are more prone to the affliction, as are people over the age of 65.

The illness can be difficult to cure, and there are many pathways of treatment that doctors may suggest. A study, however, may make it easier for seniors living at retirement communities to weed out some of these treatments. According to The New York Times, a team of researchers published a review of some of the most common remedies used to help individuals recover from chronic constipation. The study can be found in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The researchers looked at various studies that investigated dietary fibers, laxatives, enemas and suppositories, stimulants and stool softeners, water consumption and exercise - all treatments that doctors may recommend to those living with this problem. Laxatives that contained polyethylene glycol were found to have significant effects. In one small study, stool softeners proved to be helpful, as did treatment involving the herbal stimulant known as senna.

For the other forms of treatment, evidence of effectiveness was harder to come by. According to the Times, dietary fiber treatments were inconsistent, and there was little or no evidence that enemas, suppositories, physical activity or water intake improved the symptoms of chronic constipation.

"It depends on the patient," Dr. Dov Gandell, a geriatrician at the University of Toronto, told the news source. "An ambulatory, non-frail elder may do well with increasing fiber content. If it's a frail elder, the risk of increased fiber would outweigh the benefits, and I would go with lactulose or polyethylene glycol, based on the evidence."

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