Evaluation and treatment of constipation in infants and children

Wendy S. Biggs, William H. Dery

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations

Abstract

Constipation in children usually is functional and the result of stool retention. However, family physicians must be alert for red flags that may indicate the presence of an uncommon but serious organic cause of constipation, such as Hirschsprung's disease (congenital aganglionic megacolon), pseudo-obstruction, spinal cord abnormality, hypothyroidism, diabetes insipidus, cystic fibrosis, gluten enteropathy, or congenital anorectal malformation. Treatment of functional constipation involves disimpaction using oral or rectal medication. Polyethylene glycol is effective and well tolerated, but a number of alternatives are available. After disimpaction, a maintenance program may be required for months to years because relapse of functional constipation is common. Maintenance medications include mineral oil, lactulose, milk of magnesia, polyethylene glycol powder, and sorbitol. Education of the family and, when possible, the child is instrumental in improving functional constipation. Behavioral education improves response to treatment; biofeedback training does not. Because cow's milk may promote constipation in some children, a trial of withholding milk may be considered. Adding fiber to the diet may improve constipation. Despite treatment, only 50 to 70 percent of children with functional constipation demonstrate long-term improvement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-477
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Family Physician
Volume73
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 2 2006

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