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Although management of constipation is an important component of gastroenterology practice, the epidemiology of constipation has remained unclear. In the April 2004 issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology, Peter D. R. Higgins, MD, PhD, and John F. Johanson, MD, MSc, reported the findings of a systematic review of published literature on the epidemiology of constipation in North America. A computer-assisted search of the MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Current Contents databases was performed independently by both investigators using the following study selection criteria: (1) samples of adults with constipation were taken from the North American population; (2) publications were written in the English language in full manuscript form; and (3) studies were undertaken to investigate the prevalence, incidence, and natural history of constipation or the impact of constipation on quality of life.
Results showed that prevalence estimates of constipation range from 1.9% to 27.2%, with most estimates between 12% and 19%. Prevalence estimates by sex indicate a female-to-male ratio of 2.2:1. In addition, the prevalence of constipation appears to increase with age, particularly after age 65. The authors concluded that constipation is common, with approximately 63 million North Americans meeting Rome II diagnostic criteria for constipation, and that efforts should be expended toward further study of the incidence and natural history of constipation and the quality of life of patients with this condition.