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J Am Geriatr Soc. 1989 May;37(5):423-9.

Constipation in the elderly living at home. Definition, prevalence, and relationship to lifestyle and health status.

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Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.


The prevalence of self-reported constipation and the factors which contribute to it were investigated in a door-to-door survey of 209 people aged 65 to 93. Thirty percent of men and 29% of women described themselves as constipated at least once a month. However, elderly people define constipation differently than do their physicians: only 3% of men and 2% of women in the community sample reported that their average stool frequency was less than three per week, the customary medical criterion for constipation. The primary symptom which elderly people used to define constipation was having to strain in order to defecate. Multiple factors were found to influence self-reports of constipation. The amount of liquids consumed was significantly related to longest period without a bowel movement in men, but fiber and liquids were not related to self-reported constipation in either sex. The number of chronic illnesses and the number of nonlaxative medications were significantly related to constipation in women but not men, and the number of psychological symptoms correlated significantly with self-reports of constipation in both men and women. Age was not significantly related to self-reported constipation in men or women over the age of 65.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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