Constipation in adults

BMJ Clin Evid. 2010 Jul 5:2010:0413.


Introduction: Although there are defined criteria for the diagnosis of constipation, in practice, diagnostic criteria are less rigid, and depend in part on the perception of normal bowel habit. Constipation is highly prevalent, with approximately 12 million general practitioner prescriptions for laxatives in England in 2001.

Methods and outcomes: We conducted a systematic review and aimed to answer the following clinical questions: What are the effects of non-drug interventions, bulk-forming laxatives, faecal softeners, stimulant laxatives, osmotic laxatives, prostaglandin derivatives, and 5-HT4 agonists in adults with idiopathic chronic constipation? We searched: Medline, Embase, The Cochrane Library, and other important databases up to October 2009 (Clinical Evidence reviews are updated periodically, please check our website for the most up-to-date version of this review). We included harms alerts from relevant organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Results: We found 51systematic reviews, RCTs, or observational studies that met our inclusion criteria. We performed a GRADE evaluation of the quality of evidence for interventions.

Conclusions: In this systematic review we present information relating to the effectiveness and safety of the following interventions: arachis oil, biofeedback, bisacodyl, cascara, docusate, exercise, glycerol/glycerine suppositories, high-fibre diet, increasing fluids, ispaghula husk, lactitol, lactulose, lubiprostone, macrogols (polyethylene glycols), magnesium salts, methylcellulose, paraffin, phosphate enemas, seed oils, senna, sodium citrate enemas, prucalopride, and sterculia.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Constipation* / drug therapy
  • Defecation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Lactulose / pharmacology
  • Laxatives / pharmacology
  • Treatment Outcome*


  • Laxatives
  • Lactulose