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Summary

Background  While numerous studies report prevalence of constipation, use of laxatives is poorly understood.

Aim  To conduct a survey in seven countries evaluating prevalence of constipation and laxative use in its treatment.

Methods  Thirteen thousand eight hundred seventy-nine adults [approximately 2000 each from US, UK, Germany (GE), France (FR), Italy (IT), Brazil (BR) and South Korea (SK)] completed questionnaires assessing occurrence, frequency, duration and laxative use for treating constipation.

Results  Overall, 12.3% of adults had constipation [range: 5% (GE) to 18% (US)] in the prior year. A greater percent of women from all countries and elderly from all except SK and BR reported constipation; odds ratios for constipation among women and elderly were 2.43 (95% CI: 2.18–2.71) and 1.5 (95% CI: 1.25–1.73) vs. men and young subjects. Among those with constipation, 16% (SK) to 40% (US) used laxatives. Laxative use was generally associated with increasing age, symptom frequency and lower income and education. A similar percentage of men and women with constipation reported using laxatives; a greater percentage of women used laxatives for a longer time.

Conclusions  Prevalence of self-defined constipation and laxative use varies among countries. Prevalence is generally related to gender and age, whereas laxative use is related to age, but not to gender.