I met the father of a patient the other day who told me he was in the plumbing and waste management business.
“So are we,” I replied, only somewhat jokingly. In reality, we pediatricians deal with constipation and all related bathroom woes on an almost daily basis.
The affliction is unfortunately a common problem in children, and is typically brought on by changes in diet, or occasionally by medication, stress, or premature toilet training. Constipation in children is hallmarked by the following symptoms:
· Unusually large stools that are hard and/or dry
· Frequently passing small, pebble-sized pieces of stool
· Seepage of liquid stool in underwear
Children with constipation or hard stools can fly under the radar because their symptoms are often misinterpreted or mistaken for something else, entirely.
Gas pain, for instance, can be particularly pronounced in children with constipation or harder stools. The gas begins to act like a plunger of sorts, attempting to push the stool out, resulting in extreme abdominal discomfort.
Another interesting side effect of constipation is occasional bladder dysfunction. In these cases, the child’s bloated and distended abdomen puts a lot of pressure on the bladder causing it not to fill properly. Nonetheless, the child experiences a sensation of fullness. He or she uses the restroom more frequently as a result, but only produces a small volume of urine.
Similarly, bed wetting is a frequent problem for constipated children, embarrassing them and bewildering parents.
These bladder-related symptoms can also mimic a urinary tract infection, including pain while urinating. For that reason, it is always a good idea to have your child’s urine tested if he or she is experiencing difficulty.
The most common issue our pediatricians see in regards to constipation is the condition’s recurrent nature.
Kids get backed up for a number of reasons, including diet and other habits. However, once stool has built up in the intestine, water is drawn out. The stool becomes harder and the colon distends further.
When the child ultimately passes large stools, the stomach is emptied. But because it has been distended for so long – it is incapable of pushing out the next stool. And so, the saga continues.
Because it can take up to six months for the colon to return to its original form, sustaining one soft stool a day is the most important remedy for constipation.
The following suggestions can help make that possible:
· Increase fluids – School age children should drink an average of 3-4 glasses of water each day; this helps keep things moving through the colon.
· Increase fiber – Gradually increase your child’s intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which naturally combat constipation and clear out bowels.
· Set a meal schedule – Regular lunch and dinner times help to promote routine bathroom habits.
KinderMender regularly treats common chronic medical conditions such as constipation in children. If your child complains about recurring discomfort, make an appointment with one of our primary care providers today.