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The burden of constipation from the patient's perspective has been well described. The aim of this study was to evaluate the cost of managing constipation in patients taking opioids in a specialist palliative care inpatient unit. A retrospective review of the medical records of 58 patients (70 admissions) who died during a six-month period was undertaken to identify prescribing patterns for opioids and oral laxatives and tasks associated with managing constipation in these patients. A prospective time and motion study also was undertaken, whereby staff recorded the time and resources required to perform each task. These data were then applied to the actual frequency recorded in the retrospective review to calculate the direct cost of managing constipation in those 70 admissions during that six-month period. There was no discernable pattern in oral laxative prescribing. The mean cost of managing constipation was 29.81 pounds (48.74 USD) per admission, with staff time accounting for 85% of the cost. The most time-consuming activity was staff discussion about bowel management, which occurred at least once daily for doctors and twice for nurses and involved up to eight members of staff at a time. The cost of managing constipation is skewed in that it costs 30 pounds (49 USD) or less in 71% of admissions but exceeded 100 pounds (163 USD) in 5%. In the latter group, earlier and/or more effective intervention for constipation could lead to clinical and economic benefits.

Original publication




Journal article


J Pain Symptom Manage

Publication Date





644 - 654


Aged, Analgesics, Opioid, Constipation, Female, Health Care Costs, Humans, Laxatives, Male, Palliative Care, Prevalence, United Kingdom