South African Medical Journal

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Constipation in elderly patients attending a polyclinic

P J Meiring, G Joubert


Objective. Tb determine the prevalence of and risk factors for constipation in the elderly. Differences between the white and black elderly populations in this regard were examined.
Design. Cross-section hospital-based study.
Setting. The family medicine cliriics at National and Pelonomi hospitals in greater Bloemfontein.
Participants. 179 white and 188 black patients, born before 1930, visiting the clinics during December and January 1994/95 and seen by one doctor. Mizin outcome measures. Constipation.
Results. In both the black and white population groups 29% of the participants were constipated according to the definition used in this study. Depression was a risk factor for constipation in both population groups. Age over 80 years was a risk factor in the black participants. The fibre and fluid contents of participants' diets were not found to be associated with constipation. Pain during defaecation was positively associated with constipation. Forty-three per cent of the white and 76.6% of the black participants used laxatives. Of the white and black laxative users 14.3% and 21.5%, respectively, used more than one laxative at a time.
Conclusion. The prevalence of constipation was high in both groups. Laxative use and abuse are very common in the black elderly population.

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