Efficacy and safety of laxatives for chronic constipation in long-term care settings: A systematic review

J Clin Pharm Ther. 2018 Oct;43(5):595-605. doi: 10.1111/jcpt.12721. Epub 2018 Jun 9.


What is known and objective: Constipation is a common disorder among long-term care (LTC) patients due to several factors. However, there are no systematic reviews investigating the use of laxatives for chronic constipation in LTC settings. This study aims to explore the safety and efficacy of laxatives in LTC patients.

Methods: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) describing the efficacy and safety of laxatives for chronic constipation in LTC patients was conducted using the following databases and search engines: MEDLINE, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, ScienceDirect, ProQuest and Google Scholar. Two of the investigators independently performed the searches, and the data were extracted using a standardized data abstraction tool.

Results and discussion: Seven RCTs involving 444 patients were included in the review. These studies included senna (with or without fibre, ie Plantago ovata), lactulose, sodium picosulphate, docusate sodium, docusate calcium, isotonic and hypotonic polyethylene glycol and Chinese herbal medicine. Senna and lactulose were the most studied laxatives in LTC patients, and senna was found to be superior to or as effective as other laxatives. Generally, the frequency and severity of adverse drug reactions (ADRs) were similar between the arms of the studies, and no serious ADRs were reported.

What is new and conclusion: Considering the short duration of the trials, the lack of trials including newer laxatives and the low quality of some of the included trials, the long-term efficacy and safety of these laxatives are not conclusive. There is a need to conduct more robust RCTs that include newer agents to evaluate long-term outcomes.

Keywords: chronic constipation; laxatives; long-term care settings; nursing homes.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Constipation / drug therapy*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / etiology
  • Humans
  • Laxatives / adverse effects*
  • Laxatives / therapeutic use*
  • Long-Term Care / methods
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Laxatives