A review of laxative therapies for treatment of chronic constipation in older adults

Am J Geriatr Pharmacother. 2010 Dec;8(6):514-50. doi: 10.1016/S1543-5946(10)80003-0.


Background: Multiple studies have addressed the treatment of chronic constipation in adults in general; however, less guidance is available for treating this condition in older patients.

Objective: The aim of this paper was to review the effectiveness of laxatives for chronic constipation in the elderly.

Methods: Medline, Web of Science, international Pharmaceutical Abstracts, and the Cochrane database of Systematic Reviews were searched for english-language articles evaluating the treatment of chronic constipation in older individuals from the inception of the databases until October 2010. Search terms included constipation, treatment, laxative, elderly, and geriatric. Articles were excluded if the mean age was <65 years.

Results: Thirty-one trials were identified. These studies varied widely in terms of methodology, quality, sample size, efficacy end points, and duration. Mean stool frequency was 9.08 bowel movements per week with psyllium and 8.29 per week with calcium polycarbophil (P = 0.04). docusate sodium daily, docusate sodium q12h, and docusate calcium daily for 3 weeks produced a mean stool frequency of 1.95 bowel movements per week versus 1.50 for placebo (P = NS), 2.29 versus 1.76 (P = NS), and 2.83 versus 1.75 (P<0.02), respectively. Mean stool frequency with lactulose versus placebo was 0.7 and 0.5 bowel movements per day (P<0.02). in patients receiving polyethylene glycol or lactulose, mean stool frequency was 1.3 and 0.9 bowel movements per day (P = 0.005). in a study comparing senna plus a bulking agent with lactulose, mean stool frequency was 4.5 per week for the combination product versus 2.2 per week for lactulose (P<0.001). A study comparing sodium picosulfate with senna reported a mean stool frequency of 0.71 and 0.63 per day (P value not reported). Lubiprostone was associated with 5.69 spontaneous bowel movements per week versus 3.46 per week for placebo (P = 0.001).

Conclusions: Higher-quality trials evaluating the treatment of constipation in older patients are needed to create a basis for more definitive recommendations in this population. The approach to older adults with constipation should be individualized.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Cathartics / administration & dosage
  • Cathartics / therapeutic use*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Constipation / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Laxatives / administration & dosage
  • Laxatives / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Cathartics
  • Laxatives