Assessing constipation in palliative care within a gastroenterology framework

Katherine Clark, David Currow

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Constipation is common and distressing in palliative care. Despite this, approaches to assessment and subsequent treatment are most remarkable for the numbers who fail adequate palliation. Aim: The primary aim of this paper is to summarise the current approaches to assessing constipation in palliative care, contrasting these approaches with those recommended by gastroenterologists in the assessment of resistant constipation in non-palliative care. The secondary aim is to suggest ways that the approaches used by gastroenterologist could be modified to be tolerable to palliative care. Design: A non-systematic review of the literature was undertaken. Data sources: The electronic databases (MEDLINE, CINHAL) were searched for English language articles that explored assessment of constipation in palliative care and evidence-based gastroenterology guidelines that summarised assessment and management of constipation. Results: Currently, the assessment of constipation in palliative care is predominantly based on peoples reports, physical examination and if further imaging is deemed necessary, a plain abdominal radiograph. However, data in non-palliative care patients refutes the usefulness of self-reported symptoms to localise whether problems are due to colon dysfunction or structures of defaecation. Plain radiographs are most useful to exclude a bowel obstruction only. In cases of resistant constipation, gastroenterology guidelines recommend an assessment approach that includes measuring colon transit time and an assessment of the structures that facilitate defaecation. Conclusions: Current approaches to assessing constipation in palliative care are very different to those recommended by gastroenterology guidelines. However, modified approaches may be tolerable to palliative care patients and offer the chance of developing targeted palliation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)834-841
    Number of pages8
    JournalPalliative Medicine
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012


    • Constipation
    • diagnosis
    • palliative care
    • pathophysiology


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