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J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2001 Jul-Aug;2(4):149-54.

Assessment of constipation management in long-term care patients.

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Long Term Care Services, Sutter Health, Sacramento, CA, USA.



To determine the prevalence of diagnosed constipation among nursing home patients; to assess the prevalence of routine (at least one time per week for 4 consecutive weeks) laxative use; and to investigate prescribing practices.


A retrospective multi-center medical record evaluation.


Any one of 25 nursing facilities representative of a long-term care pharmaceutical provider's geographical coverage.


All patients under the age of 65, and/or who had resided in the facility for less than 4 weeks, and/or who were placed in a specialty care bed (eg, Alzheimer's disease, hospice, HIV/AIDS) were excluded.


A total of 712 resident charts meeting initial inclusion criteria were screened, 392 (55%) of which had a documented diagnosis of constipation and/or routine laxative use. Approximately 28% (CI +/- 3.3) of residents had a documented diagnosis of constipation. The rate of laxative use within the same sample population of 712 patients was 53.8% (CI +/- 3.7). Of the 392 patients with a diagnosis of constipation and/or routine laxative use, over 72% had at least one diagnosis or medication known to precipitate constipation. The most commonly prescribed laxatives were stool softeners (26.2%), saline laxatives (18.4%) and stimulant/irritant laxatives (15.6%). Almost half of the laxative users were prescribed more than one agent.


This study supports the concern that there is often a gap between documentation of symptoms and constipation treatment decisions. No correlation was found between the specific laxative prescribed and the presence or absence of a documented diagnosis of constipation. Treatment decisions should be based on thorough examination and individualized patient needs. Furthermore, there is a need to increase monitoring for drug effectiveness.


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