When I first started working as a pediatric emergency nurse at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, I was surprised by a lot of things: how small crutches can be, how resilient children are, and how many popsicles a kid can house in one sitting. But something that I really didn’t anticipate? How common it is for kids to be constipated.
I check a lot of children in to the emergency room, and out of all of the kids who come in for belly pain, many of these kids are diagnosed with constipation. So when I had the opportunity to pick the brains of the experts at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago about it, I knew that I had to get all of the details for the Everymoms. If you’re looking for answers surrounding constipation in children, look no further—we’ve got your back.
1. What are some signs and symptoms that might indicate my child is constipated?
While every child may experience the signs and symptoms of constipation differently, there are some common, tell-tale signs that might point to a diagnosis of constipation. According to the experts at Lurie Children’s, some common signs of constipation include:
- Abdominal pain
- Infrequent stooling patterns
- Stools that are small, dry, hard, painful, or difficult to pass
- Poor appetite
- Abdominal distension
2. How common is constipation in children and what causes it?
When I had the chance to talk to the specialists at Lurie Children’s, one of my first orders of business was to confirm what I already knew. When asked about the prevalence of constipation amongst children, they noted that it is one of the most common reasons for visits to gastroenterologists, with 10-25% of all pediatric GI referrals being for constipation.
While in some cases there are no identifiable causes, a good majority of the cases of constipation can be linked back to:
- Anatomic abnormalities of the intestinal tract, rectum, or anus; spinal cord abnormalities. Endocrine problems, such as hypothyroidism
- Changes in diet, such as starting solid foods. Transition to cow’s milk. Or not enough fruits, vegetables or water in the diet
- Changes in routine, including traveling, or stress
- Withholding, or issues with toilet training
- Certain medications (i.e. iron preparations)
3. How is constipation diagnosed in children?
Constipation can be diagnosed by obtaining a medical history or by performing specific medical tests.
If there is concern for constipation based on your child’s medical history, there are certain tests their doctor may perform to further diagnose the cause or severity of the constipation. Some of these tests include:
- An abdominal X-ray: A diagnostic test to evaluate the amount of stool in the large intestine.
- A contrast enema: A procedure in which a fluid that will appear on X-ray is given into the rectum as an enema, and a subsequent X-ray of the abdomen is taken to clarify the anatomy.
- An anorectal manometry: A test that measures the strength of the muscles in the anus, nerve reflexes, ability to sense rectal distention, and coordination of muscles during stooling.
- A rectal biopsy: A test that takes a sample of the cells in the rectum to be examined under a microscope for any problems.
4. What are some home remedies to treat constipation?
At home, there are a couple of ways that you can prevent and treat your child’s constipation. Staying hydrated is key to having soft stools, so make sure that your child’s fluid intake is adequate. Foods high in fiber (like fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, and breads) can serve as natural laxatives that can help stool pass more easily. Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter stool softeners or laxatives that can help your child pass stool more easily.
5. At what point would my child’s constipation require medical treatment and what would that treatment look like?
The experts at Lurie Children’s noted that that if constipation is not improved with adequate dietary changes and the occasional over-the-counter laxatives have not resolved the issue, your next course of action would be to seek help from a pediatric medical provider, especially if the child has a poor appetite, is losing weight, has abdominal distension or incontinence.
Looking for more? Check out more from the specialists from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago here.
This post was in partnership with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board. We only recommend products we genuinely love.