Constipation and Fecal Incontinence in the Elderly

Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2020 Aug 24;22(11):54. doi: 10.1007/s11894-020-00791-1.

Brototo Deb 1, David O Prichard 1, Adil E Bharucha 2


Author information

  • 1Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Mayo Clinic, 200 1st Street, Rochester, MN, 55905, USA.
  • 2Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Mayo Clinic, 200 1st Street, Rochester, MN, 55905, USA. bharucha.adil@mayo.edu.


Purpose of review: To review the epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical features, and management of primary constipation and fecal incontinence in the elderly.

Recent findings: Among elderly people, 6.5%, 1.7%, and 1.1% have functional constipation, constipation-predominant IBS, and opioid-induced constipation. In elderly people, the number of colonic enteric neurons and smooth muscle functions is preserved; decreased cholinergic function with unopposed nitrergic relaxation may explain colonic motor dysfunction. Less physical activity or dietary fiber intake and postmenopausal hormonal therapy are risk factors for fecal incontinence in elderly people. Two thirds of patients with fecal incontinence respond to biofeedback therapy. Used in combination, loperamide and biofeedback therapy are more effective than placebo, education, and biofeedback therapy. Vaginal or anal insert devices are another option. In the elderly, constipation and fecal incontinence are common and often distressing symptoms that can often be managed by addressing bowel disturbances. Selected diagnostic tests, prescription medications, and, infrequently, surgical options should be considered when necessary.

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