• To increase your awareness of the challenges of diagnosing constipation in people with learning disabilities
• To understand the potential consequences, for people with learning disabilities, of untreated constipation
• To revisit the assessments required to diagnose constipation in a person with a learning disability accurately
Constipation is a common health condition that, if not recognised and treated, can have major adverse effects on people’s health and well-being. People with learning disabilities have been shown to have a shorter life expectancy than the general population. Leading causes of premature death in this population group are respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal disorders including constipation. Yet, with timely assessments and appropriate interventions, constipation can be prevented or treated.
• Consequences of constipation include increased laxative use, frequent hospital admissions and readmissions, suboptimal health outcomes and premature death.
• The signs and symptoms of constipation can be challenging to ascertain in people with learning disabilities due notably to communication difficulties and diagnostic overshadowing.
• Accurately diagnosing constipation in a person with a learning disability who shows behaviour of concern involves comprehensive and thorough assessments of their physical and mental health, behaviour, medicines and environment.
‘How to’ articles can help you to update your practice and ensure it remains evidence based. Apply this article to your practice. Reflect on and write a short account of:
• How this article might improve your practice when supporting the accurate diagnosis of constipation in a person with a learning disability who shows behaviour of concern.
• How you could use this information to educate nursing students or colleagues to support the accurate diagnosis of constipation in a person with a learning disability who shows behaviour of concern.
Learning Disability Practice. doi: 10.7748/ldp.2023.e2231Peer review
This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated softwareCorrespondence
Marsh L, McMeel A (2023) How to support the accurate diagnosis of constipation in people with learning disabilities. Learning Disability Practice. doi: 10.7748/ldp.2023.e2231Disclaimer
Please note that information provided by Learning Disability Practice is not sufficient to make the reader competent to perform the task. All clinical skills should be formally assessed according to policy and procedures. It is the nurse’s responsibility to ensure their practice remains up to date and reflects the latest evidence
Published online: 21 December 2023
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