Definition & Facts for Constipation in Children

What is constipation in children?

Constipation in children is a condition in which a child may have

  • fewer than two bowel movements a week
  • bowel movements with stools that are hard, dry, and small, making them painful or difficult to pass

In most cases, constipation in children lasts a short time and is not dangerous.

How common is constipation in children?

Almost 5 percent of visits to pediatricians are for constipation. About 25 percent of the children who visit gastroenterologists are constipated.1

What are the complications of constipation in children?

Constipation can lead to health problems such as fecal impaction, anal fissures, or rectal prolapse.

Fecal impaction

Fecal impaction happens when hard stool packs a child’s intestine and rectum so tightly that the normal pushing action of the colon is not enough to push the stool out.

Anal fissures

Anal fissures are small tears in the anus that may cause itching, pain, or bleeding.

Rectal prolapse

Rectal prolapse happens when a child’s rectum slips so that it sticks out from his or her anus. Rectal prolapse in children is not common in developed countries.2 Rectal prolapse can happen if a child strains during bowel movements, among other reasons. Rectal prolapse may cause mucus to leak from the child’s anus.

References

November 2014
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.