What is constipation in children?
Children who are constipated have fewer than two bowel movements in a week. When they do have a bowel movement, the stools are hard, dry, small, and difficult or painful to pass.
Which children are affected by constipation?
Up to 10% of children will be constipated at any given time. Other factors include the following:
- Constipation is slightly more common in boys.
- Children who have developmental delays, behavioral issues or problems affecting the anus or rectum may suffer from chronic (long-term) constipation.
- Older children and teens may become constipated if their diet does not include enough high-fiber foods and water.
- Children who are at toilet training-age may be holding in their stool.
What causes constipation in children?
Children often become constipated because they hold in stool. As a result, the colon absorbs too much fluid and the stool becomes dry and hard to pass. Children may hold in stool because they:
- Don’t want to stop whatever activity they’re doing, such as playing.
- Are embarrassed to use a public bathroom.
- Are worried the bowel movement will be painful.
- Are nervous about learning to use the bathroom or are not ready developmentally for toilet training.
Other causes of constipation in children include:
- A low-fiber diet
- Not getting enough fluids
- Certain medications, including antacids, anticholinergics for muscle spasms, narcotics for pain, and some treatments for depression
- Health problems that make the stool move slowly through the colon
- Problems with the way the gastrointestinal system works
- Irritable bowel syndrome (the colon muscle tightens quickly)
- An illness that causes a loss of appetite
- Stress caused by school or by changes in routine, weather or travel
What are the symptoms of constipation in children?
Symptoms of constipation in children include:
- Several days without normal bowel movements
- Painful, hard stools that are difficult to pass
- Unusual postures and movements, such as standing on tiptoes or appearing to be dancing (caused by trying to hold in a bowel movement)
- Pain or bloating in the abdomen
- Soiled underwear caused by leaking from fecal impaction (stool is trapped in the colon). This may look like diarrhea.
- Urinary incontinence (leaking urine) because stool in the colon is pressing against the bladder
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Poor appetite
- Unusually cranky behavior