Myths and misconceptions about chronic constipation

Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 Jan;100(1):232-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2005.40885.x.


There are many strongly held beliefs about constipation that are not evidence based. The purpose of this review is to address these beliefs concerning various aspects of constipation. There is no evidence to support the theory that diseases may arise via "autointoxication," whereby poisonous substances from stools within the colon are absorbed. Dolichocolon, defined as an elongated colon, should not be seen as a cause of constipation. The role of sex hormones altering gut function during the menstrual cycle appears to be minimal. During pregnancy they may play a role in slowing gut transit. Hypothyroidism can cause constipation, but among patients presenting with constipation, hypothyroidism is rare. A diet poor in fiber should not be assumed to be the cause of chronic constipation. Some patients may be helped by a fiber-rich diet but many patients with more severe constipation get worse symptoms when increasing dietary fiber intake. There is no evidence that constipation can successfully be treated by increasing fluid intake unless there is evidence of dehydration. In the elderly constipation may correlate with decreased physical activity, but many cofactors are likely to play a role. Intervention programs to increase physical activity as part of a broad rehabilitation program may help. It is unlikely that stimulant laxatives at recommended doses are harmful to the colon. A proportion of patients with chronic constipation is dependent of laxatives to achieve satisfactory bowel function, but this is not the result of prior laxative intake. Tolerance to stimulant laxatives is uncommon. There is no indication for the occurrence of "rebound constipation" after stopping laxative intake. While laxatives may be misused, there is no potential for addiction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cathartics / adverse effects
  • Chronic Disease
  • Colon / pathology
  • Constipation* / etiology
  • Constipation* / physiopathology
  • Constipation* / therapy
  • Diet
  • Gastrointestinal Transit
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology
  • Humans
  • Life Style


  • Cathartics
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones