A series of 64 women complaining of severe constipation is described, in each of whom delayed elimination of markers from the colon was demonstrated but a barium enema was normal. All completed a detailed questionnaire and the responses are compared with those obtained in an age-matched series of healthy women with no bowel complaint. In each group 40 women also recorded in a manner suitable for analysis all food eaten over a period of seven days. The patients passed about one stool weekly with the aid of laxatives, and were greatly troubled by abdominal pain, bloating, malaise and nausea, to the extent that the symptoms were a major social disability and many lost time from work. Decreased bowel frequency and other symptoms were often first noticed around the age of puberty and slowly became worse until they were severe by the third decade. In a few, the symptoms began suddenly after an abdominal operation c-accident. Comparison with the control group showed no evidence that the patients had been underweight at any time or that they took less fibre; treatment with a bran supplement did not usually help them. The patients experienced rectal sensation before defaecation less often than the control subjects and they used digital pressure to assist defaecation more frequently. The women with constipation tended to have more painful and irregular menstrual periods, and there was an increased incidence of ovarian cystectomy and hysterectomy. Hesitancy in starting to pass urine was more common, as were some somatic symptoms such as cold hands or blackouts. Attention is drawn to this distinctive combination in young women of slow total gut transit time and a colon of normal width on barium enema, associated with abdominal, anorectal, gynaecological and somatic symptoms, as a disorder which can be disabling and particularly difficult to treat.
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