Constipation in children
Constipation is a common problem in most children and it is normally characterized by hard or dry stools or irregular bowel movements.
There are various factors that may contribute to constipation in children. Some common causes may include diet changes or early toilet training. However, in most cases, constipation in children is only a temporary condition. Offering more fruits and vegetables that are rich in fibers and encouraging your child to drink more fluids may help relieve symptoms of constipation in the long run. Consult your doctor if you want to consider laxatives to treat constipation in your child.
Signs and symptoms
Children with constipation may have the following signs and symptoms:
- No bowel movements for many days
- Strained bowel movements – bowel movements are difficult to pass and hard and dry
- Abdominal pain
- Pain while making a bowel movement
- Soiled underwear
- Traces of clay-like or liquid stool in a child’s underwear
- Poor appetite
Some children fear that making bowel movements can be painful; therefore, they avoid doing it. While making bowel movements, you might notice that your child is twisting his or her body, crossing the legs, making faces or clenching the buttocks.
When to seek medical attention
Constipation in children is no cause of alarm. However, prolonged or chronic constipation may be a warning sign of an underlying condition or may even lead to further complications. If constipation persists for more than two weeks or occurs with the following problems, see your health care provider promptly:
- Blood in the stool
- Weight loss
- Abdominal swelling
- Anal fissures (tears of the skin around the anus that causes pain)
- Rectal prolapsed (intestinal projection from the anus)
Depending on the underlying cause, or condition, your child’s health care provider may recommend the following treatment methods as required:
- Over-the-counter fiber supplements. If your child consumes inadequate amounts of fiber from his diet, your doctor may recommend taking over-the-counter fiber supplements to relieve symptoms of constipation. However, it is important that your child also drinks 32 ounces (0.95l) or more of water on a daily basis for the supplements to work effectively. Make sure your consult your doctor about the right dosage according to your child’s age and weight. You can also give stool softeners such as glycerin suppositories to soften the stool in young children and infants who may not be able to swallow supplement pills. Make sure you talk to your child’s doctor about the method of usage of these products.
- Laxatives. In case of a fecal blockage, your child’s doctor may advise giving your child a laxative in order to eliminate the obstruction. Mineral oil should be avoided for infants as they are most likely going to inhale the oil, which may result in pneumonia. Do NOT consider giving your child a laxative or enema, without your doctor’s consent and guidelines for appropriate dosage.
Other treatment methods for severe constipation may include hospital enema or surgery (rarely), but these treatment methods will be determined by your doctor if necessary.
Lifestyle changes can also go a long way when it comes to treating constipation. Treatment primarily includes making some diet changes such as including plenty of fiber rich foods such as oats, fruits, vegetables etc., and making sure your child drinks plenty of fluids throughout the day. It helps to plan out a toilet routine and make sure that your child is not so distracted with other activities that he or she ignores the need to use the toilet. Be supportive and keep reminding your child to use the bathroom and also make sure he or she is involved in physical activity to enhance bowel movements. Sometimes certain medications may also cause constipation, make sure you consult your doctor about other alternatives for these medications if they are causing constipation.