Colonic transit time in constipated children: does pediatric slow-transit constipation exist?

J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1996 Oct;23(3):241-51. doi: 10.1097/00005176-199610000-00007.


In adults, slow-transit constipation is a well-established form of constipation with abdominal pain and an empty rectum on examination. Marker studies in these patients, mainly women, show a markedly slowed transit time in all colonic segments. No studies in constipated children are available that assess the existence of slow-transit constipation. In a prospective study, a total of 94 referred constipated pediatric patients, 63 boys and 31 girls (median age, 8.0 years), underwent colonic-transit-time measurements using radioopaque markers to evaluate the pattern of transit. In addition, orocecal-transit-time measurements using the hydrogen breath (lactulose) test, anorectal manometry, and behavior studies using the Child Behavior Checklist were performed in all children. Based on the upper limit (mean + 2 SD) of total colonic transit time (CTT) in constipated children, we arbitrarily separated patients into two groups. Children with CTTs > 100 h were said to have pediatric slow-transit constipation (PSTC), while patients with CTTs < 100 h were said to have normal- or delayed-transit constipation (NDTC). In 94 constipated children, PSTC was found in 24 children; in 70 children, total CTT was < 100 h (NDTC). Total and segmental CTTs were significantly prolonged in PSTC (median, 189 h; range, 104.4-384) versus NDTC (median, 46.8 h; range, 3.6-99.4) hours. No significant differences were found in orocecal transit time. Significant clinical differences in children with PSTC versus those with NDTC existed regarding nighttime soiling (71 vs. 11%); daytime soiling episodes (14 vs. 7 each week, median), and nighttime soiling episodes (5 vs. 0 each week, median); absent urge to defecate (33 vs. 14%); and palpable abdominal (71 vs. 39%) and/or rectal (71 vs. 13%) masses. All manometric parameters were comparable in the two groups, except for a significantly lower maximal squeeze pressure with PSTC. Using the Child Behavior Checklist, both groups differed significantly from controls (26 and 43%, respectively), with no significant differences in behavior problems found between the NDTC and the PSTC groups. In conclusion, based on objective marker studies, our findings suggest the existence of pediatric slow-transit constipation. This entity can be recognized by clinical features, most importantly nighttime soiling and a palpable rectal mass. The probability of PSTC with both of these symptoms was 0.82; in the absence of these two symptoms, it was 0.07. It is of interest that CTTs in PSTC are comparable with CTTs in adults with slow-transit constipation, although the clinical presentation is clearly different. Further studies are needed to investigate whether the prolonged CTT characterizes a distinct form of constipation in children or is an epiphenomenon of the underlying constipation itself. The mechanisms responsible for the slow transit in these children and the appropriate therapeutic approach need to be studied.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Child, Preschool
  • Colon / physiopathology*
  • Constipation / physiopathology*
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Transit*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Manometry
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reference Values