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In a journal article published last week, researchers reported the results of a randomized trial involving 91 patients with a history of constipation who were taught the technique of self-acupressure, in which pressure is applied by the fingers to the perineum, the area of the body between the anus and the scrotum in men and the anus and the vaginal opening in women.

At four weeks, 72 percent of the patients randomly assigned to the treatment reported improvement in symptoms, and that the technique "helped them avoid or better manage the effects of constipation," the authors of the study wrote. More than 80 percent of the patients in the treatment group also said they would continue to use the acupressure technique. and another 72 percent said they would recommend it to family and friends.

More common treatments for constipation are stool softeners, exercise and dietary fiber intake, but recent research suggested to the scientists that acupressure might enable easier bowel movements by relaxing the anal sphincter muscles.

The study's participants were randomly assigned into two groups: 45 who received standard care (stool softeners, dietary fiber, etc.) and 45 who were taught self-acupressure. At the start of the study and at one month, a Patient Assessment of Constipation Quality of Life scores was administered. Those in the treatment group assessed the intervention positively.

"This study suggests that clinicians should consider incorporating education in perineal self-acupressure as a first-line treatment for constipation," wrote the study's authors,"along with conventional interventions such as increased exercise and dietary fiber intake."

"Constipation is very common and can have debilitating symptoms," said Ryan Abbott, from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-author of the study, in a press release. "But patients can perform this simple intervention themselves to treat their own constipation and improve their quality of life. It can also help to limit health care costs and excessive medication use."

Abbot estimated U.S. hospital costs associated with constipation at some $4.25 billion.