Management of Constipation in Older Adults

Am Fam Physician. 2015 Sep 15;92(6):500-4.


Chronic constipation is common in adults older than 60 years, and symptoms occur in up to 50% of nursing home residents. Primary constipation is also referred to as functional constipation. Secondary constipation is associated with chronic disease processes, medication use, and psychosocial issues. Fecal impaction should be treated with mineral oil or warm water enemas. Most patients are initially treated with lifestyle modifications, such as scheduled toileting after meals, increased fluid intake, and increased dietary fiber intake. Additional fiber intake in the form of polycarbophil, methylcellulose, or psyllium may improve symptoms. Fiber intake should be slowly increased over several weeks to decrease adverse effects. The next step in the treatment of constipation is the use of an osmotic laxative, such as polyethylene glycol, followed by a stool softener, such as docusate sodium, and then stimulant laxatives. Long-term use of magnesium-based laxatives should be avoided because of potential toxicity. If symptoms do not improve, a trial of linaclotide or lubiprostone may be appropriate, or the patient may be referred for further diagnostic evaluation. Peripherally acting mu-opioid antagonists are effective for opioid-induced constipation but are expensive.

Publication types

  • Patient Education Handout

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease / therapy*
  • Constipation / diagnosis*
  • Constipation / therapy*
  • Education, Medical, Continuing
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • United States