Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

Font Size

Constipation Myths Debunked

Spelling Out the Facts and Fiction of Constipation
WebMD Health News

Jan. 4, 2005 -- Constipation has been misunderstood for far too long, and it's high time that changed. So say four doctors who want to set the record straight on constipation.

The doctors come from Germany, England, Italy, and the U.S. They pooled their knowledge to see what does -- and doesn't -- make a difference in constipation.

Constipation is one of the most common health problems in the Western world.

But familiarity hasn't brought scientific insight. Many strong beliefs about constipation haven't been confirmed through studies.

"Certitude is not the same as correctness," say the doctors, who included Stefan Müller-Lissner, MD, of Germany's Park-Klinik Weissensee.

To separate science from folklore, the doctors reviewed studies on constipation. They covered everything from fiber to laxatives to hormones. Here's a quick look at their findings:

  • Laxatives aren't likely to be addictive.
  • Except for the most severe cases, most laxative users don't develop a tolerance for laxatives that requires them to keep increasing their dose.
  • Stimulant laxatives probably don't harm the colon and haven't been shown to increase colorectal cancer risk. However, chronic constipation appears to be linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Unless someone is dehydrated, drinking more fluids hasn't been shown to help.
  • Increasing dietary fiber helps some patients, but makes other cases worse.
  • For elderly patients, becoming more active can help. But younger people with severe, chronic constipation may not reap the same benefit.
  • There is no evidence that diseases are caused by absorbing toxins from stools.
  • Women's sex hormones have little impact on constipation during the menstrual cycle. However, hormones during pregnancy may increase constipation.
  • Underactive thyroids can cause constipation, but it's rarely seen in constipation patients.

The study appears in the American Journal of Gastroenterology's January edition.

Today on WebMD

filling glass of water from faucet
Prevention strategies to try.
stomach ache
From symptoms to treatments.
Causes, symptoms, and treatments.
worried mature woman
Are they related?
IBS Trigger Foods
Supplements for IBS What Works
IBS Symptoms Quiz
digestive health
gluten free diet
digestive myths
what causes diarrhea
top foods for probiotics