Constipation in children

Constipation in children is a common problem. Constipation in children is often characterized by infrequent bowel movements or hard, dry stools.

Various factors can lead to constipation in children. Common causes include early toilet training and changes in diet. Fortunately, most cases of constipation in children are temporary.

Encouraging your child to make simple dietary changes — such as eating more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables and drinking more fluids — can go a long way toward alleviating constipation. If your child's doctor approves, sometimes constipation in children can also be treated with laxatives.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Signs and symptoms of constipation in children may include:

  • Less than three bowel movements a week
  • Bowel movements that are hard, dry and difficult to pass
  • Pain while having a bowel movement
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Traces of liquid or clay-like stool in your child's underwear — a sign that stool is backed up in the rectum
  • Blood on the surface of hard stool

If your child fears that having a bowel movement will hurt, he or she may try to avoid it. You may notice your child crossing his or her legs, clenching his or her buttocks, twisting his or her body, or making faces during these maneuvers.

When to see a doctor

Constipation in children usually isn't serious. However, chronic constipation may lead to complications or signal an underlying condition. Take your child to a doctor if the constipation lasts longer than two weeks or is accompanied by:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in the stool
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Weight loss
  • Painful tears in the skin around the anus (anal fissures)
  • Intestinal protrusion out of the anus (rectal prolapse)

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