Get access

Constipation – prevalence and incidence among medical patients acutely admitted to hospital with a medical condition



Aims and objectives

To examine the prevalence and incidence of patient-reported symptoms of constipation in acutely hospitalised medical patients.


Constipation is a common medical problem with severe consequences, and most people suffer from constipation at some point in their lives. In the general population, constipation is one of the most common complaints and is a significant personal and public health burden. Alteration in patients’ patterns of elimination while in hospital has long been identified as either a potential or an actual problem that requires attention. Knowledge of the prevalence and incidence of constipation during hospitalisation is only sporadic.


The study was descriptive and a prospective cohort design was chosen.


The Constipation Assessment Scale was translated into Danish and was used for the assessment of patient-reported bowel function. Five nurses made the assessments at admission to the acute medical ward and three days after admission. Three hundred and seventy-three patients participated in this study.


Thirty-nine percent of the patients showed symptoms of constipation at admission. Of the patients who did not have the symptoms at admission, 43% developed the symptoms during the first three days of their stay in hospital. Significantly more of the older patients developed symptoms of moderate constipation. The incidence rate was 143 new cases per 1000 patient days.


In this study, symptoms of constipation were common among patients acutely admitted to hospital due to different medical conditions. Symptoms of constipation were also developed during the first three days of the stay in hospital.

Relevance to clinical practice

The study highlights the need to develop both clinical guidelines towards treating constipation, and preventive measures to ensure that patients do not become constipated while staying in hospital.