Constipation, diarrhea, and prophylactic laxative bowel regimens in the critically ill: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Tyler Hay, Rinaldo Bellomo, Tom Rechnitzer, Emily See, Yasmine Ali Abdelhamid, Adam M. Deane

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Prophylactic laxative bowel regimens may prevent constipation in enterally-fed critically ill patients. However, their use may also increase diarrhea. We performed a systematic review to: 1. Explore the epidemiology of constipation and/or diarrhea in critically ill patients; and 2. Appraise trials evaluating prophylactic laxative bowel regimens. Methods: We searched MEDLINE, Embase, and CINAHL for publications that reported constipation or diarrhea in critically ill adult patients and/or prophylactic laxative bowel regimens. Results: The proportion of critically ill patients experiencing constipation was reported between 20% and 83% and the proportion experiencing diarrhea was reported between 3.3% and 78%. Six studies of prophylactic laxative bowel regimens were identified but only 3 randomised controlled trials were identified, and these were subjected to meta-analysis. Compared with placebo, a prophylactic laxative bowel regimen increased the risk of diarrhea (RR 1.58, 95% CI 1.22 to 2.04) but did not reduce the risk of constipation (RR 0.39, 95% CI 0.14 to 1.05), and did not affect the duration of mechanical ventilation, duration of ICU admission, or mortality. Conclusions: Constipation and diarrhea occur frequently in the critically ill but data evaluating prophylactic laxative bowel regimens in such patients are sparse and do not support their use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-250
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Critical Care
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Bowel
  • Constipation
  • Critical illness
  • Diarrhea
  • Laxatives
  • Mechanical ventilation

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