Constipation and nonspecific abdominal pain in teenage girls referred for emergency surgical consultation

J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2012 May;54(5):672-6. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e31823c253c.


Objective: The aim of this study was to describe the discharge diagnoses of children receiving surgical consultation for acute abdominal pain according to age and sex.

Methods: Retrospective chart review.

Results: Nine hundred forty-one children were included. Appendicitis was confirmed in 31% of young boys (<12 years), 42% of teenage boys (≥12 years), 38% of young girls, and only 18% of teenage girls. A large number of teenage girls were diagnosed as having constipation and nonspecific abdominal pain. Gynecological diagnoses were relatively rare (9% of teenage girls). Teenage girls often required multiple visits to the emergency department. In addition, they frequently received consultation from other medical specialists: 30% versus 20% of young girls and 12% of boys. Teenage girls had the highest rate of (retrospectively) unnecessary surgery: 36% versus 10% of young girls (P < 0.01) and 11% of boys (P < 0.01).

Conclusions: Most children receiving surgical consultation for acute abdominal pain do not have diseases requiring surgery. In teenage girls, especially, the proportion with appendicitis is low. Constipation and nonspecific abdominal pain are the main discharge diagnoses in this group. Physicians should have a high index of suspicion of constipation when examining teenage girls with acute abdominal pain.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / diagnosis*
  • Abdominal Pain / epidemiology*
  • Abdominal Pain / surgery
  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Appendicitis / diagnosis
  • Appendicitis / epidemiology
  • Appendicitis / surgery
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Constipation / diagnosis*
  • Constipation / epidemiology*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Unnecessary Procedures / statistics & numerical data