Effectiveness of senna vs polyethylene glycol as laxative therapy in children with constipation related to anorectal malformation

J Pediatr Surg. 2017 Jan;52(1):84-88. doi: 10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2016.10.021. Epub 2016 Oct 27.


Purpose: Constipation is present in 80% of children with corrected anorectal malformations, usually associated to rectal dilation and hypomotility. Osmotic laxatives are routinely used for idiopathic constipation. Senna is a stimulant laxative that produces contractions improving colonic motility without affecting the stool consistency. We designed this trial to study the effectiveness of Senna versus polyethylene glycol for the treatment of constipation in children with anorectal malformation.

Methods: A randomized controlled crossover design clinical trial, including a washout period, was conducted, including children with corrected anorectal malformations with fecal continence and constipation. The sample size was calculated for proportions (n=28) according to available data for Senna. Effectiveness of laxative therapy was measured with a three variable construct: 1) daily bowel movement, 2) fecal soiling, 3) a "clean" abdominal x-ray. Data analysis included descriptive statistics and a Fisher's exact test for the outcome variable (effectiveness).

Results: The study was terminated early because the interim analysis showed a clear benefit toward Senna (p = 0.026). The sample showed a normal statistical distribution for the variables age and presence of megarectum. The maximum daily dose of Senna (sennosides A and B) was 38.7mg and 17g for polyethylene glycol. No adverse effects were identified.

Conclusion: Therapy with Senna should be the laxative treatment of choice as part of a bowel management program in children with repaired anorectal malformations and constipation, since the stimulation of colonic propulsion waves could lead to stool evacuation without modification of its consistency which can affect fecal continence.

Level of evidence: I - randomized controlled trial with adequate statistical power.

Keywords: Anorectal malformation; Constipation; Osmotic laxative; Polyethylene glycol; Senna; Stimulant laxative.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anorectal Malformations / complications*
  • Cathartics / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Constipation / drug therapy*
  • Constipation / etiology
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laxatives / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Polyethylene Glycols / therapeutic use*
  • Senna Extract / therapeutic use*
  • Sennosides
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Cathartics
  • Laxatives
  • Sennosides
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Senna Extract