A randomized trial of enema versus polyethylene glycol 3350 for fecal disimpaction in children presenting to an emergency department

Pediatr Emerg Care. 2012 Feb;28(2):115-9. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0b013e3182442c0a.


Objective: This study aimed to compare efficacy of enema versus polyethylene glycol (PEG) 3350 for pediatric fecal impaction treatment.

Methods: We conducted a prospective, randomized comparison of treatments of fecal impaction in children in a pediatric emergency department (ED). Treatment arms were a single milk and molasses enema in the ED or PEG 3350 for 3 days outpatient. Telephone follow-up was done on days 1, 3, and 5. The primary outcome was main symptom improvement. Additional outcomes were stool frequency, consistency, and ease of stool passage. Treatment failures (home enema, ED return, or hospital admission) were tracked.

Results: Seventy-nine subjects participated (39 PEG; 40 enema). At day 1, PEG subjects were less likely to have improved main symptom (odds ratio [OR], 0.3; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.1-0.8) but no difference in other outcomes. Half (54%) in enema arm were reported as upset by ED therapy, whereas no children in PEG arm were upset (P < 0.05). At day 3, more patients in enema arm reported ideal stool consistency (74% vs 38%; P < 0.05). At day 5, no difference between groups was noted. Most treatment failures were in PEG arm (83%; P = 0.08).

Conclusions: This pilot study suggests that disimpaction by enema may be superior to PEG for immediate relief of symptoms. Larger trials are needed to assess any advantage.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adolescent
  • Cathartics / administration & dosage
  • Cathartics / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Constipation / drug therapy
  • Constipation / therapy
  • Emergencies*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Enema*
  • Fecal Impaction / therapy*
  • Feces
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Laxatives / administration & dosage
  • Laxatives / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Molasses
  • Osmosis
  • Patient Readmission / statistics & numerical data
  • Polyethylene Glycols / administration & dosage
  • Polyethylene Glycols / therapeutic use*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Cathartics
  • Laxatives
  • Polyethylene Glycols