This editorial illustration was created for a July 2014 cover of American Family Physician. The image summarizes Constipation in Children.
Childhood constipation is common and almost always functional without an organic etiology. Stool retention can lead to fecal incontinence in some patients. Often, a medical history and physical examination are sufficient to diagnose functional constipation. Further evaluation for Hirschsprung disease, a spinal cord abnormality, or a metabolic disorder may be warranted in a child with red flags, such as onset before one month of age, delayed passage of meconium after birth, failure to thrive, explosive stools, and severe abdominal distension. Successful therapy requires prevention and treatment of fecal impaction, with oral laxatives or rectal therapies. Polyethylene glycol–based solutions have become the mainstay of therapy, although other options, such as other osmotic or stimulant laxatives, are available. An increase in dietary fiber may improve the likelihood that laxatives can be discontinued in the future. Education is equally important as medical therapy and should include counseling families to recognize withholding behaviors; to use behavior interventions, such as regular toileting and reward systems; and to expect a chronic course with prolonged therapy, frequent relapses, and a need for close follow-up. Referral to a subspecialist is recommended only when there is concern for organic disease or when the constipation persists despite adequate therapy. (Am Fam Physician. 2014;00(0):000-000. Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Family Physicians.)
SAMUEL NURKO, MD, and LORI A. ZIMMERMAN, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, Evaluation and Treatment of Constipation in Children and Adolescents, Am Fam Physician.