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What is Functional Constipation in Kids?

Published March 28, 2024

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Functional constipation is a prevalent gastrointestinal issue among kiddos, affecting their comfort and well-being. Let’s review the mechanisms of functional constipation and its causes, symptoms, and solutions for kids. 

Defining Functional Constipation

Functional constipation refers to infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stools without an identifiable physical cause. Unlike organic constipation, which arises from structural abnormalities or medical conditions, functional constipation is primarily due to dysfunctional bowel habits and often occurs in otherwise healthy kiddos.

Causes of Functional Constipation

1. Diet and Hydration:Inadequate fiber intake, insufficient fluid intake, and a diet low in fruits and vegetables can contribute to constipation in kiddos. Fiber and fluids are essential for maintaining bowel regularity and softening stools for easier passage.

2. Lack of Physical Activity: Sedentary behavior and insufficient physical activity can slow down bowel movements and contribute to constipation. Regular exercise helps stimulate bowel motility and promotes healthy digestion in little ones.

3. Psychological Factors:Emotional stress, anxiety, and fear of painful bowel movements can exacerbate constipation in kiddos. These psychological factors can disrupt normal bowel function and contribute to withholding behaviors.

Symptoms of Functional Constipation

1. Infrequent Bowel Movements: Kiddos with functional constipation typically have fewer than three bowel movements per week. Stools may be hard, dry, or difficult to pass.

2. Painful Bowel Movements: Straining during bowel movements, abdominal pain, and discomfort are common symptoms of constipation in kiddos. They may also exhibit reluctance or refusal to use the toilet due to fear of pain.

3. Abdominal Distention: Bloating, abdominal distention, and a sensation of fullness are often observed in kiddos with constipation. These symptoms may worsen throughout the day and improve temporarily after a bowel movement.

Solutions for Functional Constipation

1. Dietary Modifications: Encouraging a balanced diet rich in fiber-containing foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, can help alleviate constipation in kiddos. Additionally, ensuring adequate hydration by offering plenty of water throughout the day is essential.

2. Increased Physical Activity: Promoting regular physical activity and active playtime can stimulate bowel motility and help alleviate constipation in kiddos. Outdoor activities, sports, and games encourage movement and support healthy digestion.

3. Establishing Regular Toilet Habits: Creating a consistent toilet routine and encouraging kiddos to use the toilet after meals and when they feel the urge to go can help prevent constipation. Offering positive reinforcement and praise for successful bowel movements can also encourage healthy toilet habits.

Summary

Functional constipation is a common gastrointestinal issue in kiddos, characterized by infrequent bowel movements and difficulty passing stools. Addressing underlying causes such as diet, hydration, physical activity, and toilet habits is essential for managing constipation and promoting optimal bowel health in little ones.

References

  • Mugie SM, Benninga MA, Di Lorenzo C. Epidemiology of constipation in children and adults: a systematic review. Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology. 2011;25(1):3-18.
  • Tabbers MM, DiLorenzo C, Berger MY, et al. Evaluation and treatment of functional constipation in infants and children: evidence-based recommendations from ESPGHAN and NASPGHAN. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 2014;58(2):258-274.
  • Hyams JS, Di Lorenzo C, Saps M, Shulman RJ, Staiano A, van Tilburg M. Childhood functional gastrointestinal disorders: child/adolescent. Gastroenterology. 2016;150(6):1456-1468.