To compare the perceptions of constipation among the general population (with and without constipation), general and specialist doctors, and the Rome IV criteria.
A cross-sectional survey using a self-administered questionnaire where participants were asked to report symptoms perceived to be most important for a diagnosis of constipation. Participants also judged 10 case studies in which constipation was either present or absent according to Rome IV criteria.
Two thousand five hundred fifty-seven members of the general population (934 with self-reported constipation and 1,623 without constipation), 411 general practitioners (GPs) and 365 gastroenterology specialists completed the questionnaire. Of the 934 with self-reported constipation, 877 (94%) met Rome IV criteria for functional constipation, whereas of the 1,623 who did not self-report constipation, 473 (29%) actually met Rome IV criteria. Infrequent bowel movements were perceived as important for diagnosing constipation by less than a third of the constipated general population (26%), compared with 41% of GPs and 65% of specialist doctors (P < 0.001). Principal component analysis revealed 7 symptom clusters, with most symptoms not being part of formal diagnostic criteria. Using case studies, correct diagnosis of constipation ranged from 99% down to as low as 39%, depending upon the number and type of symptom present.
The general population's perceptions of constipation differ strikingly from those of GPs and specialist doctors, and there is limited agreement between public perceptions of constipation and Rome IV criteria. These findings emphasize the need to educate doctors and the general population regarding the symptoms of constipation, and realign diagnostic criteria to address those symptoms patients perceive to be important.