Constipation affects one in five older people and the burden on healthcare resources is expected to increase as the proportion of older people in the population rises.
In Britain, it leads to nearly half a million doctor's consultations each year and doctors prescribe more drugs for the condition than they do for patients with diabetes or high blood pressure, costing UK health services £50 million each year.
Yet it has largely been overlooked for major health studies.
The new research, to be carried out at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne on nearly 2,000 patients aged over 55, is backed by £650,000 in government funding.
It will examine how effectively patients can manage their constipation by making changes to their diet and lifestyle. The usual method of treating constipation is to prescribe laxatives.
Results to determine the most cost-effective way of managing constipation will be used by the government to inform the treatment of constipation by health professionals nationwide.