Constipation in the elderly

Am Fam Physician. 1998 Sep 15;58(4):907-14.


Constipation affects as many as 26 percent of elderly men and 34 percent of elderly women and is a problem that has been related to diminished perception of quality of life. Constipation may be the sign of a serious problem such as a mass lesion, the manifestation of a systemic disorder such as hypothyroidism or a side effect of medications such as narcotic analgesics. The patient with constipation should be questioned about fluid and food intake, medications, supplements and homeopathic remedies. The physical examination may reveal local masses or thrombosed hemorrhoids, which may be contributing to the constipation. Visual inspection of the colon is useful when no obvious cause of constipation can be determined. Treatment should address the underlying abnormality. The chronic use of certain treatments, such as laxatives, should be avoided. First-line therapy should include bowel retraining, increased dietary fiber and fluid intake, and exercise when possible. Laxatives, stool softeners and nonabsorbable solutions may be needed in some patients with chronic constipation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cathartics / therapeutic use
  • Constipation* / etiology
  • Constipation* / therapy
  • Dietary Fiber / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male


  • Cathartics
  • Dietary Fiber