Childhood constipation: longitudinal follow-up beyond puberty

Gastroenterology. 2003 Aug;125(2):357-63. doi: 10.1016/s0016-5085(03)00888-6.


Background & aims: Sparse data exist about the prognosis of childhood constipation and its possible persistence into adulthood.

Methods: A total of 418 constipated patients older than 5 years at intake (279 boys; median age, 8.0 yr) participated in studies evaluating therapeutic modalities for constipation. All children subsequently were enrolled in this follow-up study with prospective data collection after an initial 6-week intensive treatment protocol, at 6 months, and thereafter annually, using a standardized questionnaire.

Results: Follow-up was obtained in more than 95% of the children. The median duration of the follow-up period was 5 years (range, 1-8 yr). The cumulative percentage of children who were treated successfully during follow-up was 60% at 1 year, increasing to 80% at 8 years. Successful treatment was more frequent in children without encopresis and in children with an age of onset of defecation difficulty older than 4 years. In the group of children treated successfully, 50% experienced at least one period of relapse. Relapses occurred more frequently in boys than in girls (relative risk 1.73; 95% confidence interval, 1.15-2.62). In the subset of children aged 16 years and older, constipation still was present in 30%.

Conclusions: After intensive initial medical and behavioral treatment, 60% of all children referred to a tertiary medical center for chronic constipation were treated successfully at 1 year of follow-up. One third of the children followed-up beyond puberty continued to have severe complaints of constipation. This finding contradicts the general belief that childhood constipation gradually disappears before or during puberty.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease
  • Constipation / epidemiology
  • Constipation / therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Recurrence
  • Sex Factors