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Pediatric Constipation

Constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation is a common complaint in children that is relatively defined for individual age groups based on the frequency and difficulty of defecation Defecation The normal process of elimination of fecal material from the rectum. Gastrointestinal Motility and stool consistency Consistency Dermatologic Examination. The majority of constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation cases are functional or non-organic. Clinical presentation may vary, from insufficient evacuation noted by the parents, to complaints of abdominal pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways, to secondary incontinence. Often, a combination of non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic management is needed for evacuating bowel content, eliminating pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways upon defecation Defecation The normal process of elimination of fecal material from the rectum. Gastrointestinal Motility, and improving bowel habits.

Last updated: Sep 29, 2022

Editorial responsibility: Stanley Oiseth, Lindsay Jones, Evelin Maza

Overview

Definition

  • Constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation is a relative term and depends on a number of factors including frequency, consistency Consistency Dermatologic Examination, and difficulty in passage of stool:
    • A hard stool Hard stool Appendicitis ( consistency Consistency Dermatologic Examination) passed every 3rd day (frequency) with “difficulty” requires management. 
    • A soft stool that is passed without difficulty every 2–3 days is not constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation.
  • The Paris Consensus on Childhood Constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation Terminology (PACCT) definition:
    • A period of 8 weeks with at least 2 of the following symptoms: 
      • Defecation Defecation The normal process of elimination of fecal material from the rectum. Gastrointestinal Motility < 3/week 
      • Fecal incontinence 2 ⩲/week 
      • Passage of large stools that clog the toilet 
      • Palpable abdominal or rectal fecal mass Mass Three-dimensional lesion that occupies a space within the breast Imaging of the Breast 
      • Habit of withholding stool
      • Painful defecation Defecation The normal process of elimination of fecal material from the rectum. Gastrointestinal Motility

Epidemiology

  • Constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation of all etiologies:
    • Affects 30% of children
    • Makes up approximately 4% of pediatrician visits
    • Most common in 2–4-year-old children
  • Functional constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation:
    • Constitutes 95% of all cases of constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation
    • Most common in preschool-aged children

Etiology

  • Functional constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation:
    • Meets clinical PACCT criteria for constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation with no underlying pathologic causes
  • A minority (about 5%) may have constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation due to organic causes.
Table: Causes of constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation in children
Nonorganic (functional or retentive) No underlying pathologic causes
Anatomic
Abnormal musculature
  • Prune-belly syndrome
  • Gastroschisis Gastroschisis Gastroschisis is a congenital abdominal wall defect characterized by the complete lack of closure of the abdominal musculature. A portion of intestine does not return to the abdominal cavity, thereby remaining in its early embryonic herniated state but with no coverings. Gastroschisis
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Muscular dystrophy Muscular Dystrophy Becker Muscular Dystrophy
Intestinal nerve or muscle abnormalities
  • Hirschsprung’s disease
  • Intestinal neuronal dysplasia
  • Spinal cord Spinal cord The spinal cord is the major conduction pathway connecting the brain to the body; it is part of the CNS. In cross section, the spinal cord is divided into an H-shaped area of gray matter (consisting of synapsing neuronal cell bodies) and a surrounding area of white matter (consisting of ascending and descending tracts of myelinated axons). Spinal Cord: Anatomy lesions
  • Tethered cord
  • Autonomic neuropathy Neuropathy Leprosy
  • Spinal cord Spinal cord The spinal cord is the major conduction pathway connecting the brain to the body; it is part of the CNS. In cross section, the spinal cord is divided into an H-shaped area of gray matter (consisting of synapsing neuronal cell bodies) and a surrounding area of white matter (consisting of ascending and descending tracts of myelinated axons). Spinal Cord: Anatomy trauma
  • Spina bifida
  • Chagas disease Chagas disease Infection with the protozoan parasite trypanosoma cruzi, a form of trypanosomiasis endemic in central and south america. It is named after the brazilian physician carlos chagas, who discovered the parasite. Infection by the parasite (positive serologic result only) is distinguished from the clinical manifestations that develop years later, such as destruction of parasympathetic ganglia; chagas cardiomyopathy; and dysfunction of the esophagus or colon. Trypanosoma cruzi/Chagas disease
Metabolic disorders
  • Hypokalemia Hypokalemia Hypokalemia is defined as plasma potassium (K+) concentration < 3.5 mEq/L. Homeostatic mechanisms maintain plasma concentration between 3.5-5.2 mEq/L despite marked variation in dietary intake. Hypokalemia can be due to renal losses, GI losses, transcellular shifts, or poor dietary intake. Hypokalemia
  • Hypercalcemia Hypercalcemia Hypercalcemia (serum calcium > 10.5 mg/dL) can result from various conditions, the majority of which are due to hyperparathyroidism and malignancy. Other causes include disorders leading to vitamin D elevation, granulomatous diseases, and the use of certain pharmacological agents. Symptoms vary depending on calcium levels and the onset of hypercalcemia. Hypercalcemia
  • Hypothyroidism Hypothyroidism Hypothyroidism is a condition characterized by a deficiency of thyroid hormones. Iodine deficiency is the most common cause worldwide, but Hashimoto’s disease (autoimmune thyroiditis) is the leading cause in non-iodine-deficient regions. Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes mellitus Diabetes mellitus Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a metabolic disease characterized by hyperglycemia and dysfunction of the regulation of glucose metabolism by insulin. Type 1 DM is diagnosed mostly in children and young adults as the result of autoimmune destruction of β cells in the pancreas and the resulting lack of insulin. Type 2 DM has a significant association with obesity and is characterized by insulin resistance. Diabetes Mellitus, diabetes insipidus Diabetes Insipidus Diabetes insipidus (DI) is a condition in which the kidneys are unable to concentrate urine. There are 2 subforms of DI: central DI (CDI) and nephrogenic DI (NDI). Both conditions result in the kidneys being unable to concentrate urine, leading to polyuria, nocturia, and polydipsia. Diabetes Insipidus
  • Porphyria
Intestinal disorders
  • Celiac disease Celiac disease Celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue or gluten enteropathy) is an autoimmune reaction to gliadin, which is a component of gluten. Celiac disease is closely associated with HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8. The immune response is localized to the proximal small intestine and causes the characteristic histologic findings of villous atrophy, crypt hyperplasia, and intraepithelial lymphocytosis. Celiac Disease
  • Cow’s milk protein intolerance
  • Cystic fibrosis Cystic fibrosis Cystic fibrosis is an autosomal recessive disorder caused by mutations in the gene CFTR. The mutations lead to dysfunction of chloride channels, which results in hyperviscous mucus and the accumulation of secretions. Common presentations include chronic respiratory infections, failure to thrive, and pancreatic insufficiency. Cystic Fibrosis ( meconium Meconium The thick green-to-black mucilaginous material found in the intestines of a full-term fetus. It consists of secretions of the intestinal glands; bile pigments; fatty acids; amniotic fluid; and intrauterine debris. It constitutes the first stools passed by a newborn. Prenatal and Postnatal Physiology of the Neonate ileus Ileus A condition caused by the lack of intestinal peristalsis or intestinal motility without any mechanical obstruction. This interference of the flow of intestinal contents often leads to intestinal obstruction. Ileus may be classified into postoperative, inflammatory, metabolic, neurogenic, and drug-induced. Small Bowel Obstruction equivalent)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease ( stricture Stricture Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis)
  • Tumor Tumor Inflammation
  • Connective tissue Connective tissue Connective tissues originate from embryonic mesenchyme and are present throughout the body except inside the brain and spinal cord. The main function of connective tissues is to provide structural support to organs. Connective tissues consist of cells and an extracellular matrix. Connective Tissue: Histology disorders
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus Systemic lupus erythematosus Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune, inflammatory condition that causes immune-complex deposition in organs, resulting in systemic manifestations. Women, particularly those of African American descent, are more commonly affected. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
  • Scleroderma Scleroderma Scleroderma (systemic sclerosis) is an autoimmune condition characterized by diffuse collagen deposition and fibrosis. The clinical presentation varies from limited skin involvement to diffuse involvement of internal organs. Scleroderma
Drugs
  • Anticholinergics Anticholinergics Anticholinergic drugs block the effect of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine at the muscarinic receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Anticholinergic agents inhibit the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in effects on the smooth muscle in the respiratory tract, vascular system, urinary tract, GI tract, and pupils of the eyes. Anticholinergic Drugs
  • Narcotics
  • Methylphenidate Methylphenidate A central nervous system stimulant used most commonly in the treatment of attention deficit disorder in children and for narcolepsy. Its mechanisms appear to be similar to those of dextroamphetamine. Stimulants
  • Antidepressants
  • Phenytoin Phenytoin An anticonvulsant that is used to treat a wide variety of seizures. The mechanism of therapeutic action is not clear, although several cellular actions have been described including effects on ion channels, active transport, and general membrane stabilization. Phenytoin has been proposed for several other therapeutic uses, but its use has been limited by its many adverse effects and interactions with other drugs. First-Generation Anticonvulsant Drugs
  • Lead
  • Vitamin D Vitamin D A vitamin that includes both cholecalciferols and ergocalciferols, which have the common effect of preventing or curing rickets in animals. It can also be viewed as a hormone since it can be formed in skin by action of ultraviolet rays upon the precursors, 7-dehydrocholesterol and ergosterol, and acts on vitamin D receptors to regulate calcium in opposition to parathyroid hormone. Fat-soluble Vitamins and their Deficiencies intoxication
  • Chemotherapeutic agents
Psychiatric Anorexia Anorexia The lack or loss of appetite accompanied by an aversion to food and the inability to eat. It is the defining characteristic of the disorder anorexia nervosa. Anorexia Nervosa nervosa

Pathophysiology

Functional constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation is the most common cause of constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation:  

  • Causative psychologic vicious cycle Cycle The type of signal that ends the inspiratory phase delivered by the ventilator Invasive Mechanical Ventilation 
  • Dietary or environmental factors lead to hardened stool → more painful to pass.
  • Bowel movements associated with pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways →  withhold defecation Defecation The normal process of elimination of fecal material from the rectum. Gastrointestinal Motility
  • Chronic stool holding → accommodation Accommodation Refractive Errors by the rectum Rectum The rectum and anal canal are the most terminal parts of the lower GI tract/large intestine that form a functional unit and control defecation. Fecal continence is maintained by several important anatomic structures including rectal folds, anal valves, the sling-like puborectalis muscle, and internal and external anal sphincters. Rectum and Anal Canal: Anatomy and further hardening of stool
  • Reduced sensitization to defecation Defecation The normal process of elimination of fecal material from the rectum. Gastrointestinal Motility reflex and less effective peristalsis Peristalsis A movement, caused by sequential muscle contraction, that pushes the contents of the intestines or other tubular organs in one direction. Gastrointestinal Motility
  • Encopresis Encopresis Encopresis is the involuntary or unintentional passage of feces in inappropriate situations in children older than 4 years of age in the absence of neuromuscular disease. Elimination Disorders (inability to hold stool): 
    • Passage of proximal watery content around compacted stool 
    • May be mistaken for diarrhea Diarrhea Diarrhea is defined as ≥ 3 watery or loose stools in a 24-hour period. There are a multitude of etiologies, which can be classified based on the underlying mechanism of disease. The duration of symptoms (acute or chronic) and characteristics of the stools (e.g., watery, bloody, steatorrheic, mucoid) can help guide further diagnostic evaluation. Diarrhea
  • May rarely cause urinary stasis
  • Chronic severe constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation may have an emotional impact on the patient and family.

Clinical Presentation and Diagnosis

History and exam are performed to rule out any organic causes and reassure the provider that the symptoms in question are due to functional constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation.

History

Toileting patterns:

  • Frequency, consistency Consistency Dermatologic Examination, size of stools, pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways, and association with bleeding are important defining and etiologic clues.
  • Fecal incontinence or diarrhea Diarrhea Diarrhea is defined as ≥ 3 watery or loose stools in a 24-hour period. There are a multitude of etiologies, which can be classified based on the underlying mechanism of disease. The duration of symptoms (acute or chronic) and characteristics of the stools (e.g., watery, bloody, steatorrheic, mucoid) can help guide further diagnostic evaluation. Diarrhea may indicate encopresis Encopresis Encopresis is the involuntary or unintentional passage of feces in inappropriate situations in children older than 4 years of age in the absence of neuromuscular disease. Elimination Disorders.
  • History of frequent urinary tract Urinary tract The urinary tract is located in the abdomen and pelvis and consists of the kidneys, ureters, urinary bladder, and urethra. The structures permit the excretion of urine from the body. Urine flows from the kidneys through the ureters to the urinary bladder and out through the urethra. Urinary Tract: Anatomy infections Infections Invasion of the host organism by microorganisms or their toxins or by parasites that can cause pathological conditions or diseases. Chronic Granulomatous Disease may indicate constipation-induced urinary stasis or vesicoureteral reflux Vesicoureteral Reflux Vesicoureteral reflux (VUR) is the retrograde flow of urine from the bladder into the upper urinary tract. Primary VUR often results from the incomplete closure of the ureterovesical junction, whereas secondary VUR is due to an anatomic or physiologic obstruction. Vesicoureteral Reflux.

Timing of onset of symptoms:

Psychosocial stressors:

  • Starting a new school
  • Family changes (moving, birth of new sibling, or divorce)
  • Toilet training

Behavioral cues:

  • Squatting 
  • Crossing ankles
  • Stiffening the body
  • Holding onto furniture

Cues pointing to organic etiologies:

  • Hirschsprung’s disease:
    • Passage of meconium Meconium The thick green-to-black mucilaginous material found in the intestines of a full-term fetus. It consists of secretions of the intestinal glands; bile pigments; fatty acids; amniotic fluid; and intrauterine debris. It constitutes the first stools passed by a newborn. Prenatal and Postnatal Physiology of the Neonate (1st bowel movement) delayed for more than 24 hours
    • Constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation during early months after birth
  • Lead poisoning Lead poisoning Poisoning that results from chronic or acute ingestion, injection, inhalation, or skin absorption of lead or lead compounds. Metal Poisoning (Lead, Arsenic, Iron):
    • Pica Pica Pica is an eating disorder characterized by a desire or recurrent compulsion to eat substances that are nonnutritive and not food. These compulsions and ingested substances are inappropriate for age or culture. Pica
    • Developmental delay
    • Living in older home or home with lead-based paint
  • Dietary intolerances (e.g., milk protein intolerance, celiac disease Celiac disease Celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue or gluten enteropathy) is an autoimmune reaction to gliadin, which is a component of gluten. Celiac disease is closely associated with HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8. The immune response is localized to the proximal small intestine and causes the characteristic histologic findings of villous atrophy, crypt hyperplasia, and intraepithelial lymphocytosis. Celiac Disease):
    • Recent transition from breastfeeding Breastfeeding Breastfeeding is often the primary source of nutrition for the newborn. During pregnancy, hormonal stimulation causes the number and size of mammary glands in the breast to significantly increase. After delivery, prolactin stimulates milk production, while oxytocin stimulates milk expulsion through the lactiferous ducts, where it is sucked out through the nipple by the infant. Breastfeeding to solid food
    • Transition from breast milk to cow milk–based formula
    • Intermittent blood noted in stool

Physical examination

General:

  • Growth charts should be reviewed to ascertain appropriate growth: Failure to thrive Failure to Thrive Failure to thrive (FTT), or faltering growth, describes suboptimal weight gain and growth in children. The majority of cases are due to inadequate caloric intake; however, genetic, infectious, and oncological etiologies are also common. Failure to Thrive suggests organic causes of constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation
  • Dysmorphia and other cues to syndromes should be noted:
    • Down’s syndrome
    • Prune belly syndrome
  • Prenatal history suggestive of Hirschsprung’s disease should be reviewed.

Abdominal exam:

Rectal exam:

  • Anal abnormalities may suggest an underlying pathology:
    • Presence of perineal or sacral dimples or hair tufts suggests spina bifida or a tethered cord.
    • Anal fissures Anal fissures A painful linear tear at the margin of the anus. It appears as a crack or slit in the mucous membrane of the anus and is very painful and difficult to heal. Constipation or fistulas
    • Hemorrhoids Hemorrhoids Hemorrhoids are normal vascular cushions in the anal canal composed of dilated vascular tissue, smooth muscle, and connective tissue. They do not cause issues unless they are enlarged, inflamed, thrombosed, or prolapsed. Patients often present with rectal bleeding of bright red blood, or they may have pain, perianal pruritus, or a palpable mass. Hemorrhoids should be noted on inspection Inspection Dermatologic Examination.
  • Failure to elicit an anal wink (transient contraction) by stroking the perianal skin Skin The skin, also referred to as the integumentary system, is the largest organ of the body. The skin is primarily composed of the epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (deep layer). The epidermis is primarily composed of keratinocytes that undergo rapid turnover, while the dermis contains dense layers of connective tissue. Skin: Structure and Functions may indicate sensory Sensory Neurons which conduct nerve impulses to the central nervous system. Nervous System: Histology or motor Motor Neurons which send impulses peripherally to activate muscles or secretory cells. Nervous System: Histology nerve abnormalities:
    • Spinal cord Spinal cord The spinal cord is the major conduction pathway connecting the brain to the body; it is part of the CNS. In cross section, the spinal cord is divided into an H-shaped area of gray matter (consisting of synapsing neuronal cell bodies) and a surrounding area of white matter (consisting of ascending and descending tracts of myelinated axons). Spinal Cord: Anatomy lesions
    • Tethered cord
    • Autonomic neuropathy Neuropathy Leprosy
    • Spinal cord Spinal cord The spinal cord is the major conduction pathway connecting the brain to the body; it is part of the CNS. In cross section, the spinal cord is divided into an H-shaped area of gray matter (consisting of synapsing neuronal cell bodies) and a surrounding area of white matter (consisting of ascending and descending tracts of myelinated axons). Spinal Cord: Anatomy trauma
    • Spina bifida
    • Chagas disease Chagas disease Infection with the protozoan parasite trypanosoma cruzi, a form of trypanosomiasis endemic in central and south america. It is named after the brazilian physician carlos chagas, who discovered the parasite. Infection by the parasite (positive serologic result only) is distinguished from the clinical manifestations that develop years later, such as destruction of parasympathetic ganglia; chagas cardiomyopathy; and dysfunction of the esophagus or colon. Trypanosoma cruzi/Chagas disease
  • Digital rectal examination Digital Rectal Examination A physical examination in which the qualified health care worker inserts a lubricated, gloved finger of one hand into the rectum and may use the other hand to press on the lower abdomen or pelvic area to palpate for abnormalities in the lower rectum, and nearby organs or tissues. The method is commonly used to check the lower rectum, the prostate gland in men, and the uterus and ovaries in women. Prostate Cancer Screening
    • Large, firm stool mass Mass Three-dimensional lesion that occupies a space within the breast Imaging of the Breast in the rectum Rectum The rectum and anal canal are the most terminal parts of the lower GI tract/large intestine that form a functional unit and control defecation. Fecal continence is maintained by several important anatomic structures including rectal folds, anal valves, the sling-like puborectalis muscle, and internal and external anal sphincters. Rectum and Anal Canal: Anatomy in many patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship with functional constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation
    • Small, empty rectum Rectum The rectum and anal canal are the most terminal parts of the lower GI tract/large intestine that form a functional unit and control defecation. Fecal continence is maintained by several important anatomic structures including rectal folds, anal valves, the sling-like puborectalis muscle, and internal and external anal sphincters. Rectum and Anal Canal: Anatomy in Hirschsprung’s disease
    • A gush of liquid stool may occur following a digital rectal exam in patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship with Hirschsprung’s disease. 

Neurologic exam: 

Constipation bowel

Cross-section depiction of the rectal vault in constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation with large fecal burden seen often in functional constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation in children

Image by Lecturio.

Diagnosis

In an otherwise healthy child, functional constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation is diagnosed clinically. Laboratory examination should be directed by cues suggesting other pathologic causes:

  • Laboratory testing: not indicated unless an organic cause is suspected
  • Abdominal radiographs: 
    • Not performed routinely
    • In special circumstances, radiographs may show a burden of a stool mass Mass Three-dimensional lesion that occupies a space within the breast Imaging of the Breast, especially when overflow diarrhea Diarrhea Diarrhea is defined as ≥ 3 watery or loose stools in a 24-hour period. There are a multitude of etiologies, which can be classified based on the underlying mechanism of disease. The duration of symptoms (acute or chronic) and characteristics of the stools (e.g., watery, bloody, steatorrheic, mucoid) can help guide further diagnostic evaluation. Diarrhea is suspected or physical examination is refused.
  • Single-contrast enema (not air-contrast enema) with abdominal radiographs: 
    • May assist in the diagnosis of Hirschsprung’s disease 
    • Transitional zone Transitional zone Anal Cancer from a narrow (aganglionic) distal segment to a distended (ganglionic) proximal segment is consistent with the diagnosis.
  • Anorectal manometry Manometry Measurement of the pressure or tension of liquids or gases with a manometer. Achalasia
    • A rectal balloon is inserted and inflated to measure rectal pressure.
    • Can be helpful in diagnosing neurologic causes of constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation 
  • Rectal biopsy Biopsy Removal and pathologic examination of specimens from the living body. Ewing SarcomaAbsent ganglionic cells in the affected colon Colon The large intestines constitute the last portion of the digestive system. The large intestine consists of the cecum, appendix, colon (with ascending, transverse, descending, and sigmoid segments), rectum, and anal canal. The primary function of the colon is to remove water and compact the stool prior to expulsion from the body via the rectum and anal canal. Colon, Cecum, and Appendix: Anatomy confirms a diagnosis of Hirschsprung’s disease.
Constipation

Anterior view X-ray X-ray Penetrating electromagnetic radiation emitted when the inner orbital electrons of an atom are excited and release radiant energy. X-ray wavelengths range from 1 pm to 10 nm. Hard x-rays are the higher energy, shorter wavelength x-rays. Soft x-rays or grenz rays are less energetic and longer in wavelength. The short wavelength end of the x-ray spectrum overlaps the gamma rays wavelength range. The distinction between gamma rays and x-rays is based on their radiation source. Pulmonary Function Tests of a young boy showing significant fecal burden in the rectum Rectum The rectum and anal canal are the most terminal parts of the lower GI tract/large intestine that form a functional unit and control defecation. Fecal continence is maintained by several important anatomic structures including rectal folds, anal valves, the sling-like puborectalis muscle, and internal and external anal sphincters. Rectum and Anal Canal: Anatomy suggestive of constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation

Image: “ Constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation in a young child as seen on X-ray X-ray Penetrating electromagnetic radiation emitted when the inner orbital electrons of an atom are excited and release radiant energy. X-ray wavelengths range from 1 pm to 10 nm. Hard x-rays are the higher energy, shorter wavelength x-rays. Soft x-rays or grenz rays are less energetic and longer in wavelength. The short wavelength end of the x-ray spectrum overlaps the gamma rays wavelength range. The distinction between gamma rays and x-rays is based on their radiation source. Pulmonary Function Tests” by James Heilman, MD. License: CC BY 3.0.

Management

  • If an organic cause is identified, management is tailored to the specific etiology. 
  • In patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship with functional constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation, management centers around 3 components:
    • Evacuation of colon Colon The large intestines constitute the last portion of the digestive system. The large intestine consists of the cecum, appendix, colon (with ascending, transverse, descending, and sigmoid segments), rectum, and anal canal. The primary function of the colon is to remove water and compact the stool prior to expulsion from the body via the rectum and anal canal. Colon, Cecum, and Appendix: Anatomy
      • Oral cathartics ( lactulose Lactulose A synthetic disaccharide used in the treatment of constipation and hepatic encephalopathy. It has also been used in the diagnosis of gastrointestinal disorders. Laxatives, magnesium Magnesium A metallic element that has the atomic symbol mg, atomic number 12, and atomic weight 24. 31. It is important for the activity of many enzymes, especially those involved in oxidative phosphorylation. Electrolytes hydroxide) 
      • Enemas (saline solution ± glycerin) 
    • Elimination Elimination The initial damage and destruction of tumor cells by innate and adaptive immunity. Completion of the phase means no cancer growth. Cancer Immunotherapy of pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways upon defecation Defecation The normal process of elimination of fecal material from the rectum. Gastrointestinal Motility
      • Chronic sufficient laxative Laxative Agents that produce a soft formed stool, and relax and loosen the bowels, typically used over a protracted period, to relieve constipation. Hypokalemia therapy is safe and effective.
      • Dietary modifications, such as increased intake of fluids, complex carbohydrates Carbohydrates A class of organic compounds composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in a ratio of cn(H2O)n. The largest class of organic compounds, including starch; glycogen; cellulose; polysaccharides; and simple monosaccharides. Basics of Carbohydrates (fruit juice), and vegetables with removal of cow milk in very young children
    • Improving bowel habits: Regular Regular Insulin, 5–10-minute visits to the toilet, preferably after breakfast and supper, should be encouraged. 
  • Surgery is rarely needed.
  • Further recommendations:
    • Promote breastfeeding Breastfeeding Breastfeeding is often the primary source of nutrition for the newborn. During pregnancy, hormonal stimulation causes the number and size of mammary glands in the breast to significantly increase. After delivery, prolactin stimulates milk production, while oxytocin stimulates milk expulsion through the lactiferous ducts, where it is sucked out through the nipple by the infant. Breastfeeding in neonates.
    • Recommend a reward-focused behavior change and the avoidance of chastising the child for their toileting behavior. 
Diagnostic and treatment flow charts for constipation

Diagnostic and management flow Flow Blood flows through the heart, arteries, capillaries, and veins in a closed, continuous circuit. Flow is the movement of volume per unit of time. Flow is affected by the pressure gradient and the resistance fluid encounters between 2 points. Vascular resistance is the opposition to flow, which is caused primarily by blood friction against vessel walls. Vascular Resistance, Flow, and Mean Arterial Pressure charts for constipation Constipation Constipation is common and may be due to a variety of causes. Constipation is generally defined as bowel movement frequency < 3 times per week. Patients who are constipated often strain to pass hard stools. The condition is classified as primary (also known as idiopathic or functional constipation) or secondary, and as acute or chronic. Constipation.

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References

  1. Maqbool, A., & Liacouras, C. A. (2020). Major symptoms and signs of digestive tract disorders. In R. M. Kliegman MD, J. W. St Geme MD, N. J. Blum MD, Shah, Samir S., MD, MSCE, Tasker, Robert C., MBBS, MD & Wilson, Karen M., MD, MPH (Eds.), Nelson textbook of pediatrics (pp. 190-1912.e1). https://www.clinicalkey.es/#!/content/3-s2.0-B9780323529501003321
  2. Benninga M, Candy D, Catto-Smith A, Clayden G, Loening-Baucke V, Lorenzo C, Nurko S, & Staiano A. (2005). The Paris Consensus on Childhood Constipation Terminology (PACCT) Group. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 40(3), 273–275. https://journals.lww.com/jpgn/fulltext/2005/03000/the_paris_consensus_on_childhood_constipation.4.aspx 
  3. Robin SG, Keller C, Zwiener R, Hyman PE, Nurko S, Saps M, Di Lorenzo C, Shulman RJ, Hyams JS, Palsson O, & van Tilburg MAL. (2008). Prevalence of Pediatric Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Utilizing the Rome IV Criteria. The Journal of Pediatrics, 195, 134–139. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.12.012
  4. Tabbers MM, DiLorenzo C, Berger MY, Faure C, Langendam MW, Nurko S, Staiano A, Vandenplas Y, & Benninga MA. (2014). Evaluation and treatment of functional constipation in infants and children: Evidence-based recommendations from ESPGHAN and NASPGHAN. The Journal of Pediatrics, 58(2):258–74. https://www.naspghan.org/files/documents/pdfs/cme/jpgn/Evaluation_and_Treatment_of_Functional.24.pdf
  5. Maqbool, A., & Liacouras, C. A. (2020). Major symptoms and signs of digestive tract disorders. In R. M. Kliegman MD, J. W. St Geme MD, N. J. Blum MD, Shah, Samir S., MD,MSCE, Tasker, Robert C., MBBS,MD & Wilson, Karen M., MD,MPH (Eds.), Nelson textbook of pediatrics (pp. 190–1912.e1). https://doi.org///dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-323-52950-1.00332-1

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