This study was conducted to determine the reasons for the choice of selfprescribed laxatives and to acquire information on how they were used and tolerated. From November 1999 to February 2000, 70 pharmacies, uniformly located throughout the Campania region of southern Italy, distributed a questionnaire to purchasers of over-the-counter laxatives. The average age of the (mostly female) respondents was 45.9 years; 23.8% were elderly. Among the 7324 individuals who completed the survey, 77.6% selected an oral product; 22.4% preferred rectal administration. A physician influenced the choice of a laxative in 37.7% of the cases, a pharmacist in 20.5%; other suggestions came from relatives (14%), acquaintances (12.1%), advertisements (11.7%), and miscellaneous sources (4%). Only 59.8% of respondents used these drugs correctly, and 58.2% consulted a physician or pharmacist because of constipation. Adverse effects, mainly gastrointestinal symptoms, occurred in 6.1% of those surveyed. The long-term use or abuse of laxatives can cause serious medical consequences, as well as mask diseases, delaying diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Physicians, pharmacists, and other health-care personnel should counsel patients on the proper use of these easily available, ubiquitous drugs.
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