Diagnosis of Constipation in Children

How do doctors diagnose constipation in children?

To find out why a child is constipated, the child’s doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical exam, and may order tests.

Medical history

The medical history will include questions about the child’s constipation, such as

  • what are the child’s bowel movement patterns, including how often the child has bowel movements
  • when the first bowel movement after birth happened
  • what are the child’s eating habits, including when and what the child most often eats and drinks
  • what are the child’s social situations like, including
    • his or her day care attendance
    • his or her potty training
  • whether the child has any health problems
  • whether the child is taking medicine that can cause constipation
  • what is the family’s history of constipation

Doctors primarily use a child’s medical history to diagnose functional constipation. The child’s history and symptoms may be different depending on his or her age.

Physical exam

During a physical exam, a doctor will listen for bowel sounds and feel the child’s abdomen for

  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • masses, or lumps

The physical exam may include a rectal exam. After putting on a glove, a doctor will slide a lubricated finger into a child’s anus to check for tenderness, blockage, or blood.

Diagnostic tests

Since functional constipation is so common in children, doctors do not normally use diagnostic tests for children with constipation unless they do not respond to treatment or the doctor suspects a specific cause.

What tests do doctors use to diagnose constipation in children?

A doctor may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose constipation:

Blood test

A blood test might show an abnormality, such as anemia, indicating that a disease might be the cause of a child’s constipation.

X-ray

A doctor may order an x-ray of the child’s abdomen to look for problems causing the constipation. The child will lie on a table or stand during the x-ray. A health care professional positions the x-ray machine over the child’s abdomen. The child will hold his or her breath while the health care professional takes the x-ray so that the picture will not be blurry. The health care professional may ask the child to change position for more x-rays.

November 2014
Share

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.