Bowel health in chronic kidney disease: Patient perceptions differ from clinical definitions

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The bowel health of those with chronic kidney disease (CKD) can be affected by medications, fluid/dietary allowances, reduced activity and pre-existing medical conditions. Patient perceptions of their bowel health can differ from those of health care professionals and the burden of gastrointestinal symptoms could be inaccurately reported.


Adults with CKD, including those undergoing haemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis and kidney transplant from four South Australian hospitals enrolled in the study. Participants completed a five-item questionnaire, to investigate their perception of bowel health compared with clinical criteria for ‘normal and abnormal’ bowel health using the Bristol Stool Form Scale, bowel frequency and reported symptoms.


A total of 324 individuals completed the questionnaire. Of those with clinically defined ‘abnormal’ bowel health (n = 180), 50.6% perceived their bowels as ‘normal’ or ‘more normal than abnormal’. Only 6% of this clinically ‘abnormal’ group perceived their bowel health as abnormal. Of those with clinically defined ‘normal’ bowel health (n = 144), 16% perceived their bowel health as ‘abnormal’, ‘more abnormal than normal‘ or ‘variable’. Fifty-seven percent of patients with clinically defined ‘abnormal’ bowel health were not taking any treatments. Peritoneal dialysis recipients were the highest users of treatments to improve bowel function, with 62% using 1 or more treatment.


It is common for patients with CKD to experience signs and symptoms of abnormal bowel health. There is a disconnect between patient perceptions and clinical definitions of normal or abnormal bowel health. Clinical care team members must carefully obtain and clarify patient-reported symptoms related to bowel function in order to help ensure recommendations and use of appropriate treatments.

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