The number of people who go to the emergency room because they have severe constipation appears to be going up. Between 2006 and 2011, the frequency of visits to the emergency room rose by more than 41%, which is more than the 22% increase seen for all emergency room visits. This adds up to more than $1.6 billion in hospital costs in 2011, according to a recent study.
The study looked at data from the National Emergency Department Sample from 2006 to 2011. By looking at diagnosis codes-the numbers used for a diagnosis in medical records-the researchers were able to determine how many people went to the emergency room with chronic constipation as their main problem.
In addition to the large increase in the number of visits due to constipation, the cost for each visit has also gone up by more than 56%, from $1,474 in 2006 to $2,306 in 2011. The total national cost of visits to the emergency room due to constipation rose by 121% over this time.
Infants had the highest rate of constipation-related visits. People older than age 85 had the second-highest rate in 2006, but those between the ages of 1 and 17 had the second-highest rate in 2011.
Although the study documents the increase in emergency room visits due to constipation, it does not explain why the increase has occurred. The increase may be due to more people having health insurance, but other factors may also exist.
Constipation is not usually a serious health problem. In most people it resolves itself in a few days. The official definition of constipation is having fewer than three bowel movements a week or having bowel movements that are hard, dry, small, or painful and difficult to pass. It can be caused by health conditions or medications.
The best prevention for constipation is to eat foods that are high in fiber and drink plenty of water. People should eat between 25 and 30 grams of fiber per day. Treatment for constipation can include over-the-counter medications such as a stool softener. Do not use laxatives for more than two weeks without talking to your doctor.
The study was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.