The prevalence of constipation among patients in palliative care has varied in prior research, from 18% to 90%, depending on study factors.
The aim of this study was to describe and explore the prevalence and symptom distress of constipation, using different definitions of constipation, in patients admitted to specialized palliative care settings.
Data was collected in a cross-sectional survey from 485 patients in 38 palliative care units in Sweden. Variables were analyzed using logistic regression and summarized as odds ratio (OR).
The prevalence of constipation varied between 7% and 43%, depending on the definition used. Two constipation groups were found: (1) medical constipation group (MCG): =3 defecations/week, n=114 (23%) and (2) perceived constipation group (PCG): patients with a perception of being constipated in the last two weeks, n=171 (35%). Three subgroups emerged: patients with (1) only medical constipation (7%), (2) only perceived constipation (19%), and (3) both medical and perceived constipation (16%). There were no differences in symptom severity between groups; 71% of all constipated patients had severe constipation.
The prevalence of constipation may differ, depending on the definition used and how constipation is assessed. In this study we found two main groups and three subgroups, analyzed from the definitions of frequency of bowel movements and experience of being constipated. To be able to identify constipation, the patients' definition has to be further explored and assessed.