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With changing dietary habits, more and more children are suffering from digestive disorders — most commonly constipation. This article will cover all aspects of constipation in children.

Constipation is a broad term that is not easy to define. The definition of "constipation in children" is different from that of "constipation in adults". Constipation in children is defined as "a condition in which a child has less than two bowel movements in a week", or "passing stools that are difficult to excrete — hard, small, or painful".

It is hence necessary for the primary caregiver of the child to make sure that he or she has no difficulty in passing stools.

What Is 'Constipation In Children'?

The child suffering from constipation usually feels bloated and may also experience abdominal pain. Constipation does not only include difficulty in passing stools but it also includes incomplete defecation. If the child is not be able to push the whole fecal matter out of his body, this condition will also be considered to be constipation.

The Digestive System And Its Mechanism

The digestive system is a combination of different organs and mechanisms. The Gastrointestinal tract consists of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. All parts of the digestive tract function in coordination with each other in order to achieve their required purpose.

There is a special pattern of movements in each part of the intestine called peristaltic movements.

Such types of movements enable the gut to move in a wave-like pattern that causes digested food to be propelled anal-ward and ultimately excreted out of the body. Abnormal activities in any part of the digestive tract can cause abnormal peristaltic movements, resulting in decreased bowel movements, which in turn cause constipation.

The large intestine, commonly referred to as the colon, reabsorbs water and nutrients from the waste matter which are used by the body as fuel. In some cases, the intestine may reabsorb a lot of fluid from the fecal matter, which causes hardening of stools.

Is Constipation Very Common?

Constipation in children is quite common.

Around 30% of pediatric visits to hospitals are due to the complaint of constipation.

It has also been noticed that many parents or caregivers are unaware that their child is suffering from constipation. This is because they are unaware of the definition, signs and symptoms of constipation.

What Conditions May Cause Constipation In Children?

One of the most common causes of constipation in children is decreased water intake. If a child is not taking enough water, the consistency of the stools hardens, thus making the process of defecation both painful and long. However, decreased water intake is the easiest to treat as well as the most common. Some other conditions that cause constipation in children include:

  • Low-fiber diet – fiber helps increase the bulk of the feces (fecal weight) and makes stools softer. Foods which are low in fiber cause a decrease in peristaltic movements, which in turn causes constipation.
  • Withholding – children sometimes ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. This may be due to a fear of toilet or the child may not want to take a break from play.
  • Routine changes – travel, stress, or hot weather.
  • Cow’s milk
  • Medication
  • Medical conditions
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