Constipation in children: novel insight into epidemiology, pathophysiology and management

J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2011 Jan;17(1):35-47. doi: 10.5056/jnm.2011.17.1.35. Epub 2011 Jan 26.


Constipation in children is a common health problem affecting 0.7% to 29.6% children across the world. Exact etiology for developing symptoms is not clear in children and the majority is considered to have functional constipation. Alteration of rectal and pelvic floor function through the brain-gut axis seems to play a crucial role in the etiology. The diagnosis is often a symptom-based clinical process. Recently developed Rome III diagnostic criteria looks promising, both in clinical and research fields. Laboratory investigations such as barium enema, colonoscopy, anorectal manometry and colonic transit studies are rarely indicated except in those who do not respond to standard management. Treatment of childhood constipation involves several facets including education and demystification, toilet training, rational use of laxatives for disimpaction and maintenance and regular follow-up. Surgical options should be considered only when medical therapy fails in long standing constipation. Since most of the management strategies of childhood constipation are not evidence-based, high-quality randomized controlled trials are required to assess the efficacy of currently available or newly emerging therapeutic options. Contrary to the common belief that children outgrow constipation as they grow up, a sizable percentage continue to have symptoms beyond puberty.

Keywords: Children; Constipation; Epidemiology; Management; Pathophysiology.