Laxatives are widely available without prescription and, as a consequence, they are commonly used for self-management of constipation by community-dwelling adults. However, it is not clear to what extent laxatives are used. Nor is it clear how laxatives are chosen, how they are used and whether consumers are satisfied with their performance. This review of published literature in the last 30 years shows the prevalence of laxative use in community-dwelling adults varied widely from 1% to 18%. The prevalence of laxative use in adults with any constipation (including both chronic and sporadic constipation) also varied widely from 3% to 59%. Apart from any geographical differences and differences in research methodologies, this wide range of estimated prevalence may be largely attributed to different definitions used for laxatives. This review also shows that laxative choice varies, and healthcare professionals are infrequently involved in selection. Consequently, satisfaction levels with laxatives are reported to be low and this may be because the laxatives chosen may not always be appropriate for the intended use. To improve constipation management in community and primary healthcare settings, further research is required to determine the true prevalence of laxative use and to fully understand laxative utilisation.
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