Chronic Constipation May Signal Serious Disorder

By Neil Osterweil
WebMD Health News

Oct. 27, 2015 -- Ongoing constipation in adults could point to problems including ischemic colitis, colorectal cancer, stomach cancer, and diverticulitis, according to a new study.

That means people who struggle to go while on the toilet or who go infrequently for weeks or longer may need more medical tests, even if they don't have symptoms like bleeding, anemia, or weight loss, said Lauren Gerson, MD, from the California Pacific Medical Center. Gerson presented the study at the American College of Gastroenterology 2015 Annual Meeting.

While ongoing constipation can be a symptom of some conditions, like colorectal cancer, it isn't considered a common risk factor for getting that disease or other serious disorders, she said.

About 15% of U.S. adults have a chronic constipation disorder.

Gerson and her colleagues looked at info on 12,838 adults 18 to 50 years old who were treated for the problem from 2008 to 2013.

The researchers found the risk for certain diseases was higher in people with chronic constipation than for people without it. Those diseases were ischemic colitis, colorectal cancer, gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, and diverticulitis. Although the risk was higher for people with inflammatory bowel disease, the difference wasn't significant, the study showed.

The link (or "association") has been shown before, but not to this degree, Gerson said.

"We went into this not expecting to find anything new, so it was kind of a surprise to us all," she said. "The association between diverticulitis and chronic constipation was not a surprise, because the patients tend to be overweight and less active, but the cancer and the ischemic colitis were definitely a surprise."

She and her colleagues plan to study whether how long constipation lasts is linked to getting specific digestive disorders.

The study results are "surprising and interesting," said Christina Surawicz, MD, from the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. "Clearly this is something we're going to have to look out for."

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.


You are constipated if you don't have a bowel movement every day. See Answer

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SOURCES: American College of Gastroenterology 2015 Annual Meeting, Oct. 16-21, 2015, Hawaii. Christina Surawicz, MD, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle. MedlinePlus: "Digestive Diseases." Mayo Clinic: "Constipation."

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