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Gastroenterologists at John Hopkins See Growing Trend of Constipation in Children

Published on , Last Updated on June 7, 2013

constipated child

Ask just about any parent if their child has ever been constipated, and they’ll probably say yes. Dealing with slight, occasional constipation is perfectly normal for small bodies. Unfortunately, it seems that these periodic bouts are becoming increasingly common and severe in many young children, according to a new report from John Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore [1].

In response to this growing trend, gastroenterology specialists at John Hopkins Children’s Center have recently created a new multidisciplinary medical and behavioral therapy clinic aimed specifically at treating constipation in children.

This may seem a little excessive, even for a top-tier research institute like John Hopkins, but considering they’ve noticed a more than 30% increase in the number of young patients suffering from constipation, opening this new clinic may be a prudent measure, to say the least.

Why Are More & More Children Getting Constipated?

Doctors and researchers at John Hopkins are still uncertain as to the exact cause of this dramatic increase in new cases, however they do have a number of working theories.

In addition to poor diet,inadequate hydration and a lack of exercise, researchers believe that a large percentage of patients are not receiving proper treatment for the condition. The effects of mild, sporadic constipation can quickly compound and escalate into a chronic condition if it isn’t addressed in time.

They suspect many constipated children are treated either too late, or not at all. What’s more, they also believe that a large percentage of the children being admitted for related gastroenterological issues are being misdiagnosed.

The symptoms of constipation, they point out, are very easy to overlook, especially in young children. And that goes for parents and doctors alike. Misconceptions about the impact and potential severity of the condition only further complicate the problem.

Recognizing & Relieving Constipation in Children

While in some cases, childhood constipation can be alleviated with simple dietary and lifestyle changes, it often times requires more a aggressive approach. Any child who has has less than three bowel movements a day for three or more months out of the year is functionally constipated and likely needs assistance.

Parents are also encouraged to consult with their family doctor or natural health care provider if their child frequently strains while on the toilet or has hard, lumpy or pellet-like bowel movements. Other tell-tale signs include complaints of bloating and fullness or feeling that they did not fully finish evacuating their bowel.

Constipated children will often refuse to use the bathroom, or require abnormal amounts of privacy to do so. Over extended periods this can lead to disrupted signals between the brain and the large intestine, which in turn allows waste matter to build-up and become compacted. This leads to painful stools which the child is reluctant to pass, and the viscous cycle of on-going constipation.

The best approach to dealing with functional constipation in children is prevention. Not just keeping tabs on how much water they drink or high fiber foods they eat, but also making sure that they are physically active and have access to the right-sized facilities to conduct their business comfortably. In more progressive instances, using a stool-softener or gentle oxygen based colon cleanser may also be required.

-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DABFM


  1. Ekaterina Pesheva. Plugged up: doctors see signs of worsening constipation in children. Johns Hopkins Children’s Center: News Releases. 2010 October 25.

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Posted In: Clinical Studies,Colon Health Blog,Constipation
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