Constipation in Women


eMediNexus Editorial    18 December 2017

Constipation is one of the most common reasons for consultation with a doctor. In most patients constipation may not require any intervention or may require only minimal intervention, while in some, it can be challenging to treat.1 Constipation has a negative impact on the quality-of-life of the affected individual. It incurs significant individual healthcare expenditure, and poses a large economic burden on the society and healthcare services.2

While constipation is a common complaint at all ages,3 its prevalence increases with advancing age.2 The incidence of constipation is higher in women, and women are more likely to schedule physician visits for constipation.4

There is strong evidence that constipation occurs more frequently in women.5

  1. Data from a Canadian study show that in persons aged 65 years or older, the prevalence of constipation was 26% for women and 16% for men. This rate increased to 34% for women and 26% for men in those older than 80 years of age.6
  2. A longitudinal survey of self-reported bowel habits in the United States found a higher prevalence of constipation in women than men, 20.8% versus 8.0%, respectively.5,7
  3. In the Epidemiology of Constipation (EPOC) study, 16% of women and 12% of men met symptom criteria for constipation and 2.0% of women reported laxative use at least every other day compared to 1.4% of men.5,8
  4. Women were more likely than men to experience lower gastrointestinal symptoms in a study by Hunt et al. More than 60% women reported experiencing abdominal pain, abdominal discomfort, bloating and constipation at least weekly and more than 90% reported these symptoms at least monthly. More than 60% of women had constipation for more than 10 years.5,9
  5. Another study investigating gender differences in self-reported constipation characteristics, symptoms and bowel and dietary habits among patients attending a specialty clinic for constipation reported that women experienced a number of constipation symptoms and abnormal bowel habits more frequently than did men. They were more likely than men to have infrequent bowel movements, hard or pellet-like stools and a longer duration of symptoms.10



  1. Lembo AJ, Ullman SP. Constipation (Chapter 18). In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ (Eds.). Feldman: Sleisenger and Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th Edition, Saunders: Elsevier; 2010.
  2. Gallegos-Orozco JF, Foxx-Orenstein AE, Sterler SM, et al. Chronic constipation in the elderly. Am J Gastroenterol. 2012;107(1):18-25; quiz 26.
  3. Ghoshal UC. Review of pathogenesis and management of constipation. Trop Gastroenterol. 2007;28(3):91-5.
  4. Jamshed N, Lee ZE, Olden KW. Diagnostic approach to chronic constipation in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2011;84(3):299-306.
  5. Sanchez MI, Bercik P. Epidemiology and burden of chronic constipation. Can J Gastroenterol. 2011;25 Suppl B:11B-15B.
  6. Schuster BG, Kosar L, Kamrul R. Constipation in older adults: stepwise approach to keep things moving. Can Fam Physician. 2015;61(2):152-8.
  7. Everhart JE, Go VL, Johannes RS, et al. A longitudinal survey of self-reported bowel habits in the United States. Dig Dis Sci. 1989;34(8):1153-62.
  8. Stewart WF, Liberman JN, Sandler RS, et al. Epidemiology of constipation (EPOC) study in the United States: relation of clinical subtypes to sociodemographic features. Am J Gastroenterol. 1999;94(12):3530-40.
  9. Hunt RH, Dhaliwal S, Tougas G, et al. Prevalence, impact and attitudes toward lower gastrointestinal dysmotility and sensory symptoms, and their treatment in Canada: A descriptive study. Can J Gastroenterol. 2007;21(1):31-70.
  10. McCrea GL, Miaskowski C, Stotts NA, et al. Gender differences in self-reported constipation characteristics, symptoms, and bowel and dietary habits among patients attending a specialty clinic for constipation. Gend Med. 2009;6(1):259-71.

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