When your child is suffering from constipation, it can be a very painful and scary thing to watch your child experience. Constipation can affect children of any age, and the causes and treatments differ. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to help a child who is suffering from constipation.
What is Constipation?
By definition, constipation is a condition leading to infrequent (and often painful) bowel movements with hard stools. It can be temporary (such as due to an illness) or chronic.
Symptoms may include:
- Two or fewer bowel movements in a week
- Painful bowel movements or straining to pass stool
- Passing stools that are hard or dry
- Bowel movements that feel incomplete
- Bloating or swelling of the abdomen
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Loss of appetite or feeling “full”
- Stool leaking between bowel movements
- Urinary tract infections
- Bleeding (in severe cases)
- Vomiting (in severe cases)
- Fever (in severe cases)
- Rectal prolapse (in severe cases)
- Weight loss (in severe cases)
What Causes Constipation?
Constipation can have several causes, but some of the most common include:
- Holding in bowel movements (such as at school)
- Medications and dietary supplements (such as iron)
- Diet (including not eating enough fiber or introducing solids for the first time)
- Stress or emotional/behavioral issues
- Metabolic conditions (such as diabetes)
- Hormonal conditions (such as hypothyroidism)
- Digestive disorders (such as celiac disease or lactose intolerance)
- Issues in the colon or rectum (such as blockages or tumors)
- Nervous system disorders (such as cerebral palsy)
- Spinal or brain cord disorders or injuries (such as spina bifida)
Constipation can be a frequent issue in young children or children who are going through toilet training as they learn to use the bathroom away from home or at school.
Some children may prefer to avoid bowel movements in these environments, causing them to hold in their stool and eventually become chronically constipated.
How is Constipation Treated?
Treatment of constipation can vary depending on the cause, but primarily, parents can expect a few common treatment options:
- Laxatives – depending on your child’s age, with doctor approval
- Stool softeners – depending on your child’s age, with doctor approval
- Enemas – depending on your child’s age, with doctor approval
- Proper toilet training – building a routine, addressing behavioral issues, etc.
- Supplementing with fiber – more fruits and vegetables, adding prune juice
- Increasing water intake – more fluids to help the body digest much more easily
- Promoting physical activity – exercise to help food move through the digestive system
When to Call a Doctor
Be sure to visit your child’s doctor ASAP if symptoms have been ongoing for more than two to three weeks or are accompanied by any of the severe symptoms listed in this article.
Most of the time, constipation in kids can be treated with a variety of lifestyle, behavioral, and dietary changes, but if you feel that your child needs assistance from laxatives, stool softeners, or enemas, be sure to discuss it with your child’s doctor first.
In addition, if there is a medical issue causing your child’s constipation, treating the underlying condition through medication or surgery will be the best course of action.
Constipation in children often has a simple cause, such as behavior or diet, but a doctor can help you determine if there is an underlying medical reason for your child’s toilet troubles. Tests may include a rectal exam, abdominal X-ray, barium enema, bloodwork, colorectal transit study, colonoscopy, or rectal biopsy.
If you think your child may need assistance with their constipation, give us a call today to schedule a convenient office visit with one of our board-certified pediatricians.