Background: Childhood constipation is common and assessment is often difficult. Plain abdominal radiography is simple and commonly used to assess constipation. The role of radiography with the use of a simple scoring system has not been fully evaluated.
Objective: To assess the reliability of scoring faecal loading on plain abdominal radiographs in children with intractable constipation.
Materials and methods: Plain abdominal radiographs from 33 constipated and 67 control children were independently assessed by three observers on two separate occasions. A scoring system was devised with scores from 0 (no stool) to 5 (gross faecal loading with bowel dilatation) in three areas of the colon, giving a total score of 0-15.
Results: There were significant differences between the scores of the constipated and control radiographs for each observer (P = 0.05). There was no intra-observer variation (P = 0.12-0.69), but significant inter-observer variation was demonstrated (P = 0.00).
Conclusions: We have found this scoring system to be a clinically useful and a reproducible tool in assessing childhood constipation. Assessment of faecal loading is subjective and varies between observers, although one observer will consistently score faecal loading on the same radiograph on successive occasions. To limit exposure to ionising radiation, we recommend that radiography be reserved for the investigation of intractable constipation, and its accuracy is improved if all radiographs are scored by the same observer.