Diagnostic approach to constipation impacts pediatric emergency department disposition

Am J Emerg Med. 2017 Oct;35(10):1490-1493. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2017.04.060. Epub 2017 Apr 26.


Objectives: Constipation is a common cause of abdominal pain in children presenting to the emergency department (ED). The objectives of this study were to determine the diagnostic evaluation undertaken for constipation and to assess the association of the evaluation with final ED disposition.

Methods: A retrospective chart review of children presenting to the pediatric ED of a quaternary care children's hospital with abdominal pain that received a soap suds enema therapy.

Results: A total of 512 children were included, 270 (52.7%) were female, and the median age was 8.0 (IQR: 4.0-11.0). One hundred and thirty eight patients (27%) had a digital rectal exam (DRE), 120 (22.8%) had bloodwork performed, 218 (43%) had urinalysis obtained, 397 (77.5%) had abdominal radiographs, 120 (23.4%) had abdominal ultrasounds, and 18 (3.5%) had computed tomography scans. Children who had a DRE had a younger median age (6.0, IQR: 3.0-9.25 vs. 8.0, IQR: 4.0-12.0; p<0.001) and were significantly less likely to have radiologic imaging (OR=0.50, 95% CI 0.32-0.78; p=0.002), but did not have an increased odds of being discharged home. After adjusting for gender, ethnicity, and significant past medical history those with an abdominal radiograph were less likely to be discharged to home (aOR=0.56, 95% CI 0.31-1.01; p=0.05).

Conclusions: The diagnostic evaluation of children diagnosed with fecal impaction in the ED varied. Abdominal imaging may be avoided if children receive a DRE. When children presenting to the ED with abdominal pain had an abdominal radiograph, they were more likely to be admitted.

Keywords: Abdominal pain; Constipation; Emergency medicine; Evaluation.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / diagnosis
  • Abdominal Pain / etiology
  • Abdominal Pain / therapy
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Constipation / complications
  • Constipation / diagnosis*
  • Constipation / therapy*
  • Digital Rectal Examination
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Enema
  • Fecal Impaction / complications
  • Fecal Impaction / diagnosis*
  • Fecal Impaction / therapy*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies