Gastroenterologists at John Hopkins Children Center report an increase of 30% among children requiring treatment for chronic constipation.
Constipation among children is a common problem which usually resolves on its own. Children can become constipated due to stress, embarrassment at having to use a shared bathroom, fear of a painful bowel movement if they had experienced dry hard stools in the past or simply may be too involved in their activities to take time to go to the toilet.
Constipation in children often goes unnoticed unless it becomes severe enough to cause obvious symptoms.
When children delay having a bowel movement on a regular basis, the stool becomes hard and may form a large mass of stool that is unable to be passed (a fecal impaction). Liquid may then leak around this mass and be mistaken for diarrhea.
Causes of Constipation in Children
In addition to stool withholding, simply not taking time to go to the bathroom often enough, other causes of constipation are the same as those that cause constipation among adults.
Lack of physical activity – With the availability of television, computer games and even video games for toddlers, children are often not getting adequate physical activity.
Low fiber diet – Children often refuse to eat fruits and vegetables. Over processed foods also lack significant fiber for intestinal and bowel health. Choose multi-grained cereals, whole grain breads and encourage fresh fruit and vegetables as much as possible.
Insignificant water intake – Children often fail to drink enough water to stay adequately hydrated. Children should drink a glass of water several times a day according to their age and weight.
Medications – Some medications may contribute to constipation in both children and adults. Ask your doctor is constipation is a side effect of any new medications he may prescribe.
Some medical conditions or birth defects may also increase the risk for constipation in children. Discuss your concerns with your child’s healthcare provide and follow his recommendations.
Treating Constipation in Children
In most instances, constipation in children resolves with no long-term consequences or treatment needed.
Treatment depends on your child’s age, medical condition and the severity of the problem. Usually improving nutritional intake by increasing fresh fruits, vegetables, fiber and water intake will be the only changes needed for healthy bowel movements to resume.
Occasionally a laxative may be needed to clear a fecal impaction or severe case of constipation.
**Always consult with your doctor before giving a laxative to your child.
If changes in diet and following your doctor’s recommendations fail to help your child resume healthy bowel movements, you should notify your doctor as this could be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition.
When to Call a Doctor
Always call your child’s doctor is you notice any of these symptoms along with constipation.
• Unexplained fever
• Vomiting and/ or nausea
• Blood in the stool or on undergarments
• Hard swollen abdomen
• Unexplained weight loss
• Cracks around the anus ( anal fistulas)
• Intestine coming out of the rectum after straining to have a bowel movement (rectal prolapsed)
Encourage your child to go to the bathroom regularly throughout the day. Young children often become so involved in play they won’t take time to have a bowel movement unless you remind them and give opportunity to do so. Don’t make toilet training a stressful time as stress can lead to constipation. Instead encourage your child to be physically active, eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and drink water to establish bowel and intestinal health now and in the future.
Constipation in Children, (n.d.), National Digestive Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), Retrieved online at http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/constipationchild/
Plugged Up: Doctors See Signs of Worsening Constipation in Children. (Oct 25, 2010) John Hopkins News Release, Retrieved online at http://www.hopkinschildrens.org/Plugged-Up-Doctors-See-Signs-of-Worsening-Constipation-in-Children.aspx