Constipation, a condition characterized by heterogeneous symptoms, is common in Western society. It is associated with reduced physical health, mental health, and social functioning. Because constipation is rarely due to a life-threatening disease (for example, colon cancer), current guidelines recommend empiric therapy. Limited surveys suggest that fewer than half of treated individuals are satisfied with treatment, perhaps because the efficacy of drugs is limited, they are associated with undesirable side effects, or they may not target the underlying pathophysiology. For example, although a substantial proportion of constipated patients have a defecatory disorder that is more appropriately treated with pelvic floor biofeedback therapy than with laxatives, virtually no pharmacological trials formally assessed for anorectal dysfunction. Recent advances in investigational tools have improved our understanding of the physiology and pathophysiology of colonic and defecatory functions. In particular, colonic and anorectal high-resolution manometry are now available. High-resolution anorectal manometry, which is increasingly used in clinical practice, at least in the United States, provides a refined assessment of anorectal pressures and may uncover structural abnormalities. Advances in our understanding of colonic molecular physiology have led to the development of new therapeutic agents (such as secretagogues, pro-kinetics, inhibitors of bile acid transporters and ion exchangers). However, because clinical trials compare these newer agents with placebo, their efficacy relative to traditional laxatives is unknown. This article reviews these physiologic, diagnostic, and therapeutic advances and focuses particularly on newer therapeutic agents.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)