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Constipation and its management
      09/16/03 03:41 PM
HeatherAdministrator

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Constipation and its management

BMJ 2003;327:459-460 (30 August)

Options go beyond laxatives and include behavioural treatment as well as new drugs

Although slow to emerge, major advances have occurred in understanding the causes and management of constipation. It now receives the attention deserved of a symptom that affects a quarter of the population at some time. Most important is the recognition that different pathophysiological processes can result in the final common symptoms of decreased bowel frequency or impaired rectal evacuation. Different clinical syndromes require different therapeutic approaches.

Bowel frequency is influenced by several factors including intake of dietary fibre, emotional make up, and psychological morbidity. Introspective individuals have a lower bowel frequency and produce less stool than extroverts. Infrequent bowel actions in the absence of symptoms can be regarded as part of the normal spectrum of bowel frequency. Low bowel frequency is more common in women.

Controlled cross sectional studies have shown that psychological morbidity is commonly associated with severe constipation.1 In some patients it is the key causative factor. Other factors include childhood problems such as sexual or physical abuse, loss of a parent through death or separation, or disturbed toileting behaviour. Underlying depression is another cause. For some the gut is their "outlet valve" for the normal stresses of living. The pathways between brain and gut that link emotions to bowel function have been largely characterised and shown to involve cerebral corticotrophin releasing factor and efferent autonomic pathways. Although psychological factors should be sought at initial assessment, in some patients they are less important. Not all patients have a psychological "skeleton."

The distinction as to whether a patient has a normal diameter or dilated large bowel is of practical importance. Severe intractable constipation with resistance to laxatives in the presence of an apparently normal (non-dilated) colon is seen most commonly in women of reproductive age. When transit is slow the key physiological abnormality is diminished colonic propulsive activity. There are associated changes in upper gut transit and sensory function. Although neural abnormalities can be shown in the colon, such as changes in the pacemaker cells of Cajal, these may be secondary to chronic ingestion of laxatives. The reversibility of impaired function by behavioural treatment2 implies that neural changes are often secondary.

Constipation is now recognised as an important symptom in a range of patients' groups with other primary pathology. Almost all patients with spinal injury experience constipation; lack of bowel control is one of their most distressing symptoms.3 It is also common in patients with multiple sclerosis. Patients with mild disease can be helped by behavioural treatment, which shows that in patients with neurological disease bowel dysfunction often has a reversible component.

Patients with a dilated bowel constitute a different clinical problem. Those with a dilated rectum and faecal impaction—so called idiopathic megarectum—are usually teenagers or young adults of either sex.4 They have often soiled since childhood. In some the problem has a behavioural basis, whereas in others there may be subtle neuromuscular abnormalities of the gut. Constipation with faecal impaction is also seen in elderly patients, especially those in care. Poor general health, impaired mobility, inadequate toilet facilities, and drugs may all contribute. Patients with dilation throughout the gut are rare and they usually have a discrete abnormality of enteric nerves or muscle, leading to impaired propulsion. In such patients with chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction, constipation is only part of a complex mix of symptoms including pain, vomiting, and nutritional impairment.

For people with mild longstanding constipation investigations are not required, and dietary management is usually sufficient to relieve symptoms. When chronic constipation is more severe, detailed consideration of likely causes and other treatments is warranted.

Many patients with mild constipation can be managed with simple bulking agents or laxatives. After thousands of years of empirical use of such agents, prescribing can now be based on evidence from controlled trials. In elderly patients with resistant constipation, a stimulant such as senna, possibly combined with a bulking agent, is more effective and cheaper than lactulose.5 Polyethylene glycol based laxatives have recently been shown to provide long term benefit in patients with idiopathic constipation and faecal impaction.

For many patients, however, laxatives do not provide sustained relief of symptoms. In addition increasing dietary fibre has been shown to worsen symptoms in many patients by causing increased bloating without an improvement in bowel function.6

Behaviour therapy, including biofeedback (teaching the patient to normalise pelvic floor function while watching real time feedback about sphincter function) and habit training, has become established as the most effective form of treatment for patients with either slow transit or impaired evacuation, when traditional treatments have failed.2 Behavioural treatments comprise a "package" of care, including exercises focused on the gut, help in coming off laxatives, and psychological support. Such treatment has been shown to improve symptoms, transit time through the gut, psychological wellbeing, and quality of life, as well as leading to reduced use of laxatives.2 7 8 It has been shown to be effective in patients with slow gut transit, impaired rectal emptying, constipation after childbirth or pelvic surgery such as hysterectomy, solitary rectal ulcer from the trauma of straining, rectocele (anterior rectal wall bulge from repeated straining), and in patients with mild degrees of neurological disease such as multiple sclerosis. Long term follow up of cohorts of patients has shown that for most of these conditions about two thirds of patients are helped.7

For those who do not benefit from simple bulking agents, laxatives, or behavioural treatments, new pharmacological approaches may offer help. The neurochemical basis for peristalsis is now better appreciated and known to involve 5-hydroxytryptamine4 (serotonin type 4) receptors.9 In contrast to laxatives, which work via a luminal mechanism, the newly developed 5-hydroxytryptamine4 agonists are absorbed in the small intestine and induce peristalsis through a systemic mechanism. Tegaserod and prucalopride are two such drugs; the former is licensed in the United States but not in the United Kingdom or most of Europe. The latter is still under development.

Patients with idiopathic megarectum should have their bowel emptied completely before titrating an osmotic laxative.4 Such a laxative may be required in the long term, although behavioural treatment seems also to help some of these patients.

Surgery was commonly used in the past to treat patients with intractable constipation, such as young women with severe idiopathic constipation. The variable and unpredictable results of colectomy,10 together with the success of conservative treatments, has made this necessary only rarely. When surgery is being considered, new techniques, such as sacral nerve stimulation, may modify bowel neuromuscular control while avoiding irreversible bowel resection.11 This treatment involves chronic neural stimulation via percutaneously placed fine sacral electrodes.

The paradigm of a drug or operation for every condition needs broadening when treating constipation. When simple treatments have failed and specialist treatment is sought, broadly based multidisciplinary teams need to be able to offer more than laxatives and surgery. It might be argued that such a trivial symptom is not deserving of such use of resources. However, patients with functional gut symptoms have impaired quality of life and consume a large amount of healthcare resources. While relieving symptoms, effective treatments are also likely to be cost effective.

Michael A Kamm, professor of gastroenterology

St Mark's Hospital, Harrow HA1 3UJ (kamm@imperial.ac.uk)




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Competing interests: MK has been an adviser to Abbott, Johnson and Johnson, Medtronic, and Novartis.
References


Mason HJ, Serrano-Ikkos E, Kamm MA. Psychological morbidity in women with idiopathic constipation. Am J Gastroenterol 2000;95: 2852-7.[CrossRef][ISI][Medline]
Chiotakakou-Faliakou E, Kamm MA, Roy AJ, Storrie JB, Turner IC. Biofeedback provides long term benefit for patients with intractable, slow and normal transit constipation. Gut 1998;42: 517-21.[Abstract/Free Full Text]
Glickman S, Kamm MA. Bowel dysfunction in spinal cord injury patients. Lancet 1996;347: 1651-3.[ISI][Medline]
Gattuso JM, Kamm MA. Clinical features of idiopathic megarectum and idiopathic megacolon. Gut 1997;41: 93-9.[Abstract/Free Full Text]
Passmore AP, Wilson-Davies K, Stoker C, Scott ME. Chronic constipation in long stay elderly patients: a comparison of lactulose and a senna-fibre combination. BMJ 1993;307: 769-71.[ISI][Medline]
Francis CY, Whorwell PJ. Bran and irritable bowel syndrome: time for reappraisal. Lancet 1994;344: 39-40.[ISI][Medline]
Emmanuel AV, Kamm MA. Response to a behavioural treatment, biofeedback, in constipated patients is associated with improved gut transit and autonomic innervation. Gut 2001;49: 214-9.[Abstract/Free Full Text]
Mason HJ, Serrano-Ikkos E, Kamm MA. Psychological state and quality of life in patients treated by behavioral treatment (biofeedback) for intractable constipation. Am J Gastroenterol 2002;97: 3154-9.[CrossRef][ISI][Medline]
Grider JR, Foxx-Orenstein AE, Jin JG. 5-Hydroxytryptamine4 receptor agonists initiate the peristaltic reflex in human, rat, and guinea pig intestine. Gastroenterology 1998;115: 370-80.[ISI][Medline]
Kamm MA, Hawley PR, Lennard-Jones JE. Outcome of colectomy for severe idiopathic constipation. Gut 1988;29: 969-73.[Abstract]
Kenefick NJ, Nicholls RJ, Cohen RG, Kamm MA. Permanent sacral nerve stimulation for treatment of idiopathic constipation. Br J Surg 2002;89: 882-8.[CrossRef][ISI][Medline]

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* Childhood Abdominal Pain May Progress to Adult Irritable Bowel Syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
10/11/05 01:36 PM
* Bronchial Hyperresponsiveness in Irritable Bowel Syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
10/11/05 01:16 PM
* The Impact of Somatization on the Use of Gastrointestinal Health-Care Resources in Patients with IBS
HeatherAdministrator
09/22/05 04:51 PM
* Abdominal Bloating - Four Factors
HeatherAdministrator
09/22/05 04:47 PM
* Abdominal Bloating
HeatherAdministrator
09/22/05 04:46 PM
* Guidelines for the Management of Dyspepsia
HeatherAdministrator
09/22/05 04:35 PM
* IBS and Functional Dyspepsia: Different Diseases or a Single Disorder With Different Manifestations?
HeatherAdministrator
09/13/05 01:03 PM
* Increased Prevalence of Obesity in Children With Functional Constipation
HeatherAdministrator
09/13/05 12:45 PM
* Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Toward an Understanding of Severity
HeatherAdministrator
09/01/05 11:19 AM
* How Do Symptoms in Chronic Constipation and IBS With Constipation Differ?
HeatherAdministrator
08/22/05 04:51 PM
* Role of Carbon Dioxide-Releasing Suppositories in the Treatment of Chronic Functional Constipation
HeatherAdministrator
08/22/05 04:32 PM
* Physiological Mechanisms Underlying Perceptions of Nausea and Stomach Fullness
HeatherAdministrator
08/07/05 04:33 PM
* Gastrointestinal infections can have lasting consequences as IBS
HeatherAdministrator
08/07/05 04:08 PM
* Dyspepsia and Irritable Bowel Syndrome After a Salmonella Gastroenteritis Outbreak
HeatherAdministrator
07/24/05 02:48 PM
* Abdominal Radiography Not Useful in Constipated Children
HeatherAdministrator
07/24/05 02:30 PM
* IBS—The Irritation of Inflammation
HeatherAdministrator
07/24/05 02:16 PM
* Irritable Bowel Syndrome in the United States: Prevalence, Symptom Patterns and Impact
HeatherAdministrator
07/05/05 03:40 PM
* IBS: Improving Diagnosis, Serotonin Signaling, and Implications for Treatment
HeatherAdministrator
07/05/05 03:30 PM
* Neural Cross-Talk May Explain Overlap of Irritable Bowel, Interstitial Cystitis
HeatherAdministrator
07/05/05 03:11 PM
* Health Economics of IBS
HeatherAdministrator
07/05/05 03:01 PM
* Overlapping Upper and Lower Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Irritable Bowel Syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
06/20/05 03:52 PM
* Diagnostic Yield of Alarm Features in Irritable Bowel Syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
06/20/05 03:44 PM
* Colon Cancer Test Misses Growths in Women
HeatherAdministrator
06/05/05 05:56 PM
* Nongastrointestinal symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
05/22/05 07:14 PM
* Partnering With Gastroenterologists to Evaluate Patients With Chronic Constipation
HeatherAdministrator
05/08/05 06:16 PM
* Impairment in Work Productivity and Health-related Quality of Life in Patients With IBS
HeatherAdministrator
05/08/05 06:11 PM
* Nerves, Reflexes, and the Enteric Nervous System: Pathogenesis of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
05/08/05 06:06 PM
* What Does the Future Hold for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
05/08/05 06:02 PM
* Towards a better understanding of abdominal bloating and distension in functional GI disorders
HeatherAdministrator
04/24/05 03:40 PM
* IBS is a risk factor for GERD
HeatherAdministrator
04/10/05 06:25 PM
* New Recommendations for Treating Children With Chronic Abdominal Pain
HeatherAdministrator
03/28/05 01:59 PM
* Irritable bowel syndrome in developing countries
HeatherAdministrator
03/28/05 01:29 PM
* Stress and the gastrointestinal tract
HeatherAdministrator
03/28/05 01:27 PM
* Alternating Bowel Habit Subtype in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
03/28/05 12:28 PM
* Fecal Microbiota of Irritable Bowel Syndrome Patients
HeatherAdministrator
03/04/05 12:11 PM
* Post-infectious IBS in patients with Shigella infection
HeatherAdministrator
03/04/05 12:03 PM
* Surgical Treatment of Chronic Functional Constipation?
HeatherAdministrator
03/04/05 11:24 AM
* Chronic constipation in children
HeatherAdministrator
02/19/05 05:53 PM
* Intestinal infection and irritable bowel syndrome.
HeatherAdministrator
02/19/05 05:36 PM
* Overlap of GI symptom complexes in a US community
HeatherAdministrator
02/06/05 02:35 PM
* Magnetic pill tracking: a novel non-invasive tool for investigation of human digestive motility
HeatherAdministrator
02/06/05 02:27 PM
* The value of a general therapeutic approach in subjects with irritable bowel syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
02/06/05 02:22 PM
* Is Constipation Associated with Decreased Physical Activity in Normally Active Subjects?
HeatherAdministrator
02/06/05 02:18 PM
* High interdigestive and postprandial motilin levels in patients with the irritable bowel syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
02/06/05 02:12 PM
* 10% to 20% of older adults have IBS
HeatherAdministrator
01/23/05 05:05 PM
* Diagnostic Criteria for Irritable Bowel Syndrome - Family Practice Doctors Unaware of Guidelines
HeatherAdministrator
01/07/05 06:20 PM
* Stress Increases Visceral Sensitivity in IBS Patients
HeatherAdministrator
01/07/05 06:13 PM
* Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with colonic pacing
HeatherAdministrator
01/07/05 05:53 PM
* Irritable bowel syndrome: colonoscopy painful and difficult?
HeatherAdministrator
01/07/05 05:50 PM
* Suicide in IBS patients emphasizes need for improvements in treatment
HeatherAdministrator
01/07/05 05:47 PM
* New Risk for Asthma, Allergy Found in the Gut
HeatherAdministrator
01/07/05 04:53 PM
* Salt intake and smoking play major roles in GERD
HeatherAdministrator
12/20/04 02:11 PM
* Constipation and Laxative Use Found to Increase Colon Cancer Risk
HeatherAdministrator
12/20/04 01:30 PM
* Link Between Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Alcoholism and Mental Illness
HeatherAdministrator
12/20/04 01:24 PM
* Complementary and alternative medicine in gastroenterology
HeatherAdministrator
12/20/04 01:16 PM
* Advances in the Treatment of Chronic Constipation
HeatherAdministrator
11/28/04 02:55 PM
* Symptom patterns in functional dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
11/28/04 02:34 PM
* Obese Women Face Higher Risk of Colorectal Cancer
HeatherAdministrator
11/08/04 04:48 PM
* Obesity is Associated With Increased Risk of Gastrointestinal Symptoms
HeatherAdministrator
10/24/04 07:42 PM
* Stress Therapy Can Help Irritable Bowel
HeatherAdministrator
10/24/04 07:38 PM
* Relationship Between Colon Ischemia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
10/11/04 04:15 PM
* Clinical Update on the Treatment of Constipation in Adults
HeatherAdministrator
10/11/04 03:34 PM
* Racial Differences in the Impact of Irritable Bowel Syndrome on Health-Related Quality of Life
HeatherAdministrator
10/11/04 03:25 PM
* What Differentiates Chronic Constipation From IBS With Constipation?
HeatherAdministrator
09/26/04 03:25 PM
* Treatment options in irritable bowel syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
09/26/04 02:57 PM
* Diagnostic approach to suspected irritable bowel syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
09/12/04 03:38 PM
* Dyssynergic Defecation: Demographics, Symptoms, Stool Patterns, and Quality of Life
HeatherAdministrator
09/12/04 03:35 PM
* Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth - A Framework for Understanding IBS
HeatherAdministrator
08/30/04 01:46 PM
* New views - and some respect - for IBS
HeatherAdministrator
08/30/04 01:25 PM
* Categorization of dysmotility in patients with chronic constipation
HeatherAdministrator
08/08/04 02:54 PM
* Prevalence of IBS according to different diagnostic criteria
HeatherAdministrator
08/08/04 02:50 PM
* Irritable Bowel Can Follow Dysentery
HeatherAdministrator
08/08/04 02:37 PM
* Irritable Bowel Syndrome Remains a Difficult Condition to Manage
HeatherAdministrator
07/24/04 02:09 PM
* Intolerance to visceral distension in functional dyspepsia or irritable bowel syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
07/24/04 02:17 PM
* Bacillary dysentery as a causative factor of irritable bowel syndrome and its pathogenesis
HeatherAdministrator
07/24/04 01:42 PM
* Irritable Bowel Syndrome Linked to High Rates of Various Surgeries
HeatherAdministrator
07/11/04 02:15 PM
* Drug-Free Ways to Treat IBS
HeatherAdministrator
07/11/04 01:47 PM
* Irritable Bowel Syndrome - An Evidence-Based Approach to Diagnosis
HeatherAdministrator
06/27/04 01:14 PM
* Biases Affect Treatment of IBS
HeatherAdministrator
06/04/04 06:45 PM
* Moms with Bowel Symptoms Take Baby to Doctor More
HeatherAdministrator
05/25/04 11:53 AM
* Natural History of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
05/10/04 02:36 PM
* Intestinal Gas May Contribute to IBS Symptoms
HeatherAdministrator
05/10/04 02:29 PM
* Are Your Bowels Irritable? IBS Awareness Month is Here
HeatherAdministrator
04/09/04 07:11 PM
* Heartburn May Not Reflect Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Severity
HeatherAdministrator
03/30/04 02:43 PM
* A link between irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia
HeatherAdministrator
03/30/04 01:46 PM
* Diverticular Disease: Electrophysiologic Study and a New Concept of Pathogenesis
HeatherAdministrator
03/09/04 11:48 AM
* New Syndrome Connects Gallbladder Dysfunction And Chronic Diarrhea
HeatherAdministrator
03/09/04 11:45 AM
* Researchers Pioneer Accessible, Cost-Effective Treatments for IBS
HeatherAdministrator
03/08/04 06:48 PM
* Splitting IBS: from original Rome to Rome II criteria
HeatherAdministrator
02/10/04 02:35 PM
* Utilization patterns and net direct medical cost to Medicaid of IBS
HeatherAdministrator
02/10/04 02:34 PM
* Family practitioners' attitudes and knowledge about IBS
HeatherAdministrator
02/10/04 02:32 PM
* The Effect of Somatization on Gastrointestinal and Extraintestinal Symptoms of IBS
HeatherAdministrator
01/26/04 03:26 PM
* Surgery and IBS
HeatherAdministrator
01/26/04 03:21 PM
* IBS Subgroups by Bowel Habit Predominance
HeatherAdministrator
01/26/04 03:13 PM
* Visceral perception thresholds in irritable bowel syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
01/07/04 11:56 AM
* Electric activity of the colon in irritable bowel syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
01/07/04 11:52 AM
* Irritable Bowel Syndrome's Possible Genetic Link
HeatherAdministrator
01/07/04 11:40 AM
* Intestinal gas distribution determines abdominal symptoms
HeatherAdministrator
12/16/03 12:27 PM
* Faecal incontinence - Many treatment options now exist
HeatherAdministrator
12/16/03 12:17 PM
* Abnormal Colonic Propagated Activity in Patients with Constipation
HeatherAdministrator
12/16/03 12:07 PM
* Colonic Propulsive Impairment in Intractable Slow-Transit Constipation
HeatherAdministrator
12/16/03 12:03 PM
* Overlapping upper and lower GI symptoms in IBS patients with constipation or diarrhea
HeatherAdministrator
12/01/03 05:51 PM
* Familial aggregation of irritable bowel syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
12/01/03 05:49 PM
* Outlook affects bowel disorder patients
HeatherAdministrator
11/18/03 03:30 PM
* Doctors unmoved by bowel misery
HeatherAdministrator
11/18/03 03:28 PM
* Travelers' Diarrhoea Can Trigger Irritable Bowel
HeatherAdministrator
11/04/03 03:21 PM
* Mind-Body Technique Eases Kids' Gut Pain
HeatherAdministrator
10/30/03 11:17 AM
* Molecular Alterations In Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
10/20/03 03:46 PM
* Three in Four People With IBS Also Have Functional Dyspepsia
HeatherAdministrator
10/15/03 03:28 PM
* Infectious Gastroenteritis Linked to Irritable Bowel Syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
09/30/03 02:27 PM
* Association Between Pain Episodes & High Amplitude Pressure Waves in IBS
HeatherAdministrator
09/16/03 03:54 PM
* Constipation and its management
HeatherAdministrator
09/16/03 03:41 PM
* Contributions of suggestion, desire, and expectation to placebo effects in IBS patients
HeatherAdministrator
09/16/03 03:28 PM
* Do published guidelines for evaluation of IBS reflect practice?
HeatherAdministrator
08/30/03 02:40 PM
* Cognitive-behavioral therapy versus education and desipramine versus placebo for IBS
HeatherAdministrator
08/12/03 12:54 PM
* Distinctive features of postinfective irritable bowel syndrome
HeatherAdministrator
07/28/03 03:18 PM
* UCLA/CURE Neuroenteric Disease Program Newsletter
HeatherAdministrator
07/23/03 10:38 AM
* Bacterial Overgrowth in IBS
HeatherAdministrator
07/18/03 12:15 PM
* Diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.
HeatherAdministrator
07/18/03 11:54 AM
* Eradication of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth reduces symptoms of IBS
HeatherAdministrator
07/18/03 11:44 AM
* Antibiotics increase functional abdominal symptoms.
HeatherAdministrator
07/18/03 11:41 AM
* Treatment of the irritable bowel syndrome.
HeatherAdministrator
07/15/03 11:02 PM
* Extraintestinal symptoms in IBS and IBD
HeatherAdministrator
07/15/03 06:21 PM
* Postinfectious irritable bowel syndrome.
HeatherAdministrator
07/15/03 06:19 PM
* Dieting severity and GI symptoms in college women.
HeatherAdministrator
07/15/03 01:13 PM
* Functional GI disorders and eating disorders - Relevance of the association
HeatherAdministrator
07/15/03 11:14 AM
* Features of eating disorders in patients with IBS
HeatherAdministrator
07/15/03 11:12 AM
* New and Important Insights Into IBS
HeatherAdministrator
07/14/03 03:24 PM
* The Irritable Bowel Syndrome-Fibromyalgia Connection
HeatherAdministrator
07/14/03 03:19 PM
* Update on Treatment of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
HeatherAdministrator
07/14/03 02:55 PM
* Irritable bowel syndrome in primary care: The patients’ and doctors’ views
HeatherAdministrator
07/14/03 02:43 PM
* Inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome: separate or unified?
HeatherAdministrator
07/14/03 02:32 PM

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