Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Pharmacology and Toxicology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Constipation and diarrhoea - common adverse drug reactions? A cross sectional study in the general population

Gunvor S Fosnes12*, Stian Lydersen2 and Per G Farup12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Innlandet Hospital Trust, Gjøvik, Norway

2 Unit for Applied Clinical Research, Department of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Clinical Pharmacology 2011, 11:2  doi:10.1186/1472-6904-11-2

Published: 18 February 2011



Constipation and diarrhoea are common complaints and often reported as adverse drug reactions. This study aimed at finding associations between drugs and constipation and diarrhoea in a general population.


A selection of inhabitants in Oppland County, Norway participated in a cross-sectional survey. Information about demographics, diseases including gastrointestinal complaints classified according to the Rome II criteria and use of drugs were collected on questionnaires. Constipation was defined as functional constipation and constipation predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and diarrhoea as functional diarrhoea and diarrhoea predominant IBS. Associations between drugs and constipation and diarrhoea were examined with multivariable logistic regression models. Based on the multivariable model, the changes in prevalence (risk difference) of the abdominal complaints for non-users and users of drugs were calculated.


In total 11078 subjects were invited, 4622 completed the questionnaires, 640 (13.8%) had constipation and 407 (8.8%) had diarrhoea. To start using drugs increased the prevalence of constipation and diarrhoea with 2.5% and 2.3% respectively. Polypharmacy was an additional risk factor for diarrhoea. Use of furosemide, levothyroxine sodium and ibuprofen was associated with constipation, and lithium and carbamazepine with diarrhoea. The excess drug related prevalence varied from 5.3% for the association between ibuprofen and constipation to 27.5% for the association between lithium and diarrhoea.


Use of drugs was associated with constipation and diarrhoea in the general population. The associations are most likely adverse drug reactions and show that drug-induced symptoms need to be considered in subjects with these complaints.