Research shows prescribing stool softeners isn't effective in easing constipation for palliative-care patients

April 22, 2013 by Raquel Maurier

(Medical Xpress)—End-of-life patients typically struggle with constipation caused by the narcotics they are given to alleviate their pain, so doctors prescribe a stool softener called docusate twice a day to alleviate this uncomfortable problem. But new medical research from the University of Alberta shows this practice isn't effective in dealing with constipation in palliative-care settings.

Faculty of & Dentistry researchers Rick Spooner, Olga Szafran, Yoko Tarumi and Mitchell Wilson recently published their findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. Spooner and Szafran both work in the Department of Family Medicine, Tarumi works in the Department of Oncology and Wilson is a current medical student.

Spooner says similar evidence published years ago suggested that in long-term care facilities didn't benefit from stool softeners, so many such facilities abandoned the practice. Spooner and his colleagues wanted to know whether the situation was similar for palliative-care patients.

"No one ever questioned the effectiveness of administering docusate to palliative-care patients," says Spooner. "Our research demonstrated there was no effectiveness to the practice. How many other things are we commonly doing in palliative medical practice where we are going on belief and tradition, instead of evidence?"

Szafran noted their research showed no difference in stool frequency or volume between palliative-care patients who received the stool softeners and those who didn't.

In total, 74 patients took part in the 10-day randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in palliative-care settings in Edmonton.

Docusate pills are large and can be difficult to swallow, so making gravely ill patients take awkward and ineffective medication that doesn't improve their quality of life doesn't make sense, says Spooner. Because nurses have to administer the medication, reducing or stopping use of the stool softener could also mean time and cost savings for the health-care system.

The research group noted trying to pinpoint best medical practices in the palliative-care population is challenging. Little research exists in this area because most patients are only in such facilities for a limited number of days. The patients or their families can be reluctant to take part in research; others pass away before completing studies.

Explore further: Involving other providers in palliative care may help meet growing demand

Related Stories

Involving other providers in palliative care may help meet growing demand

March 6, 2013
As baby-boomers age and the number of people with serious chronic illnesses continues to rise, the demand for experts in palliative medicine is sure to outstrip the supply, according Timothy E. Quill, M.D., professor of Medicine, ...

Pain management varies among palliative care centers

November 5, 2012
(HealthDay)—The management of pain outcomes for terminally ill cancer patients varies widely between inpatient palliative care centers and is affected by organizational factors such as human resources adequacy, according ...

Palliative care improves outcomes for seniors

December 10, 2012
Seniors in long-term care experienced a significant reduction in emergency room visits and depression when receiving palliative care services, according to a recent collaborative study by researchers at Hebrew SeniorLife's ...

Many mistakenly think radiation might cure terminal lung cancer

October 29, 2012
(HealthDay)—Many people with incurable lung cancer mistakenly believe that radiation therapy meant to ease their pain and other symptoms may cure their disease, researchers report.

Georgia hospitals lag in palliative care for the seriously ill, study finds

July 11, 2011
Hospitals across the nation are increasingly implementing palliative care programs to help patients manage the physical and emotional burdens of serious illnesses, but a new University of Georgia study finds that 82 percent ...

Recommended for you

To reduce postoperative pain, consider sleep—and caffeine

August 18, 2017
Sleep is essential for good mental and physical health, and chronic insufficient sleep increases the risk for several chronic health problems.

Despite benefits, half of parents against later school start times

August 18, 2017
Leading pediatrics and sleep associations agree: Teens shouldn't start school so early.

Doctors exploring how to prescribe income security

August 18, 2017
Physicians at St. Michael's Hospital are studying how full-time income support workers hired by health-care clinics can help vulnerable patients or those living in poverty improve their finances and their health.

Schoolchildren who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try tobacco

August 17, 2017
Vaping - or the use of e-cigarettes - is widely accepted as a safer option for people who are already smoking.

Federal snack program does not yield expected impacts, researchers find

August 17, 2017
A well-intentioned government regulation designed to offer healthier options in school vending machines has failed to instill better snacking habits in a sample of schools in Appalachian Virginia, according to a study by ...

Study shows cigarette makers shifted stance on nicotine patches, gum

August 17, 2017
The use of nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers or nasal sprays—together called "nicotine replacement therapy," or NRT—came into play in 1984 as prescription medicine, which when combined with counseling, helped ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.