Economic aspects of pharmacotherapy for chronic constipation

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Constipation is one of the most common digestive complaints. It is a symptom, not a disease. The subjectivity that this involves means that assessments of clinical epidemiology, socioeconomic costs and pharmacotherapy are difficult, since there is no definition of 'normal' bowel habit. Although constipation can affect all ages, the problem increases with age, and is of particular concern for those who are frail and in long term care. Cultural influences may affect the prevalence in older people. Drug therapy of constipation cannot be considered in isolation, since there are issues in the prevention of constipation and the principles of good management that also apply. Furthermore, some consideration of the pathophysiology and diagnosis is important. This is because a number of remediable causes can be identified, and the diagnostic process involves patient education, which in turn may be effective in reducing costs. It is the complaint of constipation which leads either to self-medication or to consultation with the medical profession. Both of these courses of action have a significant influence on utilisation of laxatives (cathartics), obtained both over-the-counter and by prescription. Although there are a large number of laxative preparations available, therapy has changed little in half a century. Costs may vary considerably, and with such a significant problem there is a need for comparative studies. However, study methodologies are difficult, and a significant placebo response may be found. Education and preventive measures have been shown to reduce laxative use and costs in institutions. Unfortunately, there are few comparative studies of individual laxatives and even fewer cost-effectiveness studies. Those that there are have been based in institutions, and so extrapolation to other situations may be difficult. In general, little attention is given to constipation. It is, however, an area with significant resource implications in which education and preventive measures have been shown to be beneficial. Even so, there is still a need for good comparative studies, particularly where cost effectiveness is concerned.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-24
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1995


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