Constipation in Children and Adolescents: Evaluation and Treatment

Am Fam Physician. 2022 May 1;105(5):469-478.


Constipation in children is usually functional constipation without an organic cause. Organic causes of constipation in children, which include Hirschsprung disease, cystic fibrosis, and spinal cord abnormalities, commonly present with red flag signs and symptoms. A history and physical examination can diagnose functional constipation using the Rome IV diagnostic criteria. The first goal of managing constipation is to treat fecal impaction, and then maintenance therapy is used to prevent a recurrence. Polyethylene glycol is the first-line treatment for constipation. Second-line options include lactulose and enemas. Increasing dietary fiber and fluid intake above usual daily recommendations and adding probiotics provide no additional benefits for treating constipation. Frequent follow-up visits and referrals to a psychologist can assist in reaching some treatment goals. Clinicians should educate caregivers about the chronic course of functional constipation, frequent relapses, and the potential for prolonged therapy. Clinicians should acknowledge caregivers' specific challenges and the negative effects of constipation on the child's quality of life. Referral to a pediatric gastroenterologist is recommended when there is a concern for organic causes or constipation persists despite adequate therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Constipation / diagnosis
  • Constipation / therapy
  • Fecal Impaction* / complications
  • Fecal Impaction* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Lactulose / therapeutic use
  • Laxatives* / therapeutic use
  • Quality of Life


  • Laxatives
  • Lactulose