Constipation as a diagnosis can be dangerous, mainly because it is a powerful anchor in our medical decision-making.
Chances are, you’d be right to chalk up the pain to functional constipation — 90% of pediatric constipation is functional, multifactorial, and mostly benign — as long as it is addressed.
We’re not here for “chances are“; we’re here for “why isn’t it?“
Ask yourself, could it be:
Anatomic malformations: anal stenosis, anterior displaced anus, sacral hematoma
Metabolic: hypothyroidism, hypercalcemia, hypokalemia, cystic fibrosis, diabetes mellitus, gluten enteropathy
Neuropathic: spinal cord abnormalities, trauma, tethered cord
Neuromuscular: Hirschprung disease, intestinal neuronal dysplasia, myopathies, Down syndrome, prune belly syndrome
Connective tissue disorders: scleroderma, SLE, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
Drugs: opioids, antacids, antihypertensives, anticholinergics, antidepressants, sympathomimetics
Ingestions: heavy metals, vitamin D overload, botulism, cow’s milk protein intolerance
Failure to thrive
Lack of lumbosacral curve
Midline pigmentation abnormalities of the lower spine
Tight, empty rectum in presence of a palpable fecal mass
Gush of fluid or air from rectum on withdrawal of finger
Absent anal wink
You gotta push the boat out of the mud before you pray for rain.
Medications for disimpaction
(do this first!)
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) 3350 (Miralax): 1 to 1.5 g/kg PO daily for 3 to 6 consecutive days. Maximum daily dose: 100 g/day PO. Follow-up with maintenance dose (below) for at least 2 months (usually 6 months)
Lactulose: 1.33 g/kg/dose (2 mL/kg) PO twice daily for 7 days
Mineral Oil (school-aged children): 3 mL/kg PO twice daily for 7 days
Medications for Maintenance
(do this after disimpaction!)
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) 3350 (Miralax): 0.2 to 0.8 g/kg/day PO. Maximum daily dose: 17 g/day. Maintenance dosing for Miralax may need to be tailored; up to 1 g/day maintenance.
Lactulose: 1 to 2 g/kg/day (1.5 to 3 mL/kg/day)PO divided once or twice daily. Maximum daily dose: 60 mL/day in adults.
Mineral Oil: 1 to 3 mL/kg/day PO divided in 1 to 2 doses; maximum daily dose: 90 mL/day
Docusate (Colace): 5 mg/kg/day PO divided QD, BID, or TID (typical adult dose 100 mg BID)
Senna, Bisocodyl — complicated regimens; use your local reference
- Are you sure? Have you tried oral disimpaction over days?
- No phosphate enemas for children less than 2.
- Saline enemas are generally safe for all ages
- Be careful with the specific dose — please use your local reference
Freedman SB et al. Pediatric Constipation in the Emergency Department: Evaluation, Treatment, and Outcomes. JPGN 2014;59: 327–333.
North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition. Clinical Practice Guideline: Evaluation and Treatment of Constipation in Infants and Children. JPGN 2006; 43:e1-e13.
Tabbers MM et al. Evaluation and Treatment of Functional Constipation in Infants and Children: Evidence-Based Recommendations From ESPGHAN and NASPGHAN. JPGN 2014;58: 258–274.