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Childhood constipation


One of the consequences of untreated constipation is an extremely distressing complication called faecal impaction.

This occurs when there is no adequate bowel movement for several days or weeks and a large, compacted mass of faeces builds up in the rectum and/or colon which cannot be easily passed by the child.

This can be composed of hard faeces or have a more clay-like consistency.

The symptoms of faecal impaction include failing to pass a stool for several days followed by a large, often painful or distressing bowel motion.

Between bowel movements, children with faecal impaction often soil their underclothes. Your child will not be aware of this soiling, it is completely accidental and they cannot stop it.

Faecal impaction (and constipation) with resultant overflow soiling can have considerable effects on some children and their family including:

  • Shame

  • Embarrassment

  • Denial

  • "Having a secret"

  • Being bullied

  • Social isolation

  • Low self esteem

  • Interrupted education

  • Time and costs of laundry, pads etc.

The approach to treatment involves clearing out your child’s bowel and regular laxative medicine(s) to help keep them free from constipation. Any successful approach requires both of these elements

There are essentially four main stages of treatment:

  • Education (explaining how the problem has arisen)

  • Clearing the impaction (disimpaction)

  • Preventing stools building up again

  • Establishing normal bowel habits

There are various ways of clearing the impaction and your doctor or nurse will explain them to you in more detail.

There is no quick fix cure but specialist nurses can help you by providing emotional and educational support to help prevent relapses and reinforce healthy bowel habits.

Your child may require treatment with laxatives for some time which can require a considerable amount of explanation and support to help them stay on their treatment.

Nurses can provide:

  • Counselling

  • Support

  • Long-term follow up to review progress

  • Education

  • Holistic assessment

  • Intervention and follow up

  • Addressing school and family issues

  • Motivating the child

  • Supporting the family and providing ongoing encouragement

Remember constipation is a common problem that can get worse unless treated properly. If you feel your child has a problem with constipation then do seek further advice from your doctor or nurse.

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Childhood constipation
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