Medline: 7531736

Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 9(8): 515-519, 1994.

The assessment of constipation in terminal cancer patients admitted to a palliative care unit: a retrospective review.

Bruera E, Suarez-Almazor M, Velasco A, et al.


Constipation is a frequent and distressing complication in patients with advanced cancer. However, very few studies have reviewed the assessment and management of these patients. The purpose of this study was to review the documentation and assessment and diagnosis of constipation in patients admitted to a Palliative Care Unit, and the correlation between those findings and radiological evidence of stool in the colon. The records of 122 consecutive patients admitted to the Palliative Care Unit, Edmonton General Hospital were reviewed in order to assess the physician's and the nurse's record of symptoms, physical findings, and diagnosis and treatment of constipation. All patients also underwent a flat abdominal radiograph that scored for the presence of stool in the colon (0 = no stool; and 12 = stool occupying all the lumen of the four quadrants of the colon). The radiograph was scored blindly by two different physicians. Of 103 evaluable patients, a rectal exam was reported only in 42. Correlation between the assessment by the two physicians' radiograph score was high (0.78, P nd nurses' diagnosis of constipation, the presence of laxative treatment, the number of days since the last bowel movement, and the source of the admission (hospital vs home) were not associated with higher radiological scores for constipation. Assessment is insufficient in this population at high risk for severe constipation. Radiological examination may be necessary for adequate diagnosis in some patients. More research is needed in this area.

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