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Stuck: Kids and Chronic Constipation

Not feeling so good.

Sometimes everyone gets a little constipated, but gastroentorologists at Johns Hopkins are noticing a disturbing trend:  Constipation in children is on the rise and it’s not mild.

Constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements in a week; it’s chronic if this happens for three non-consecutive months in a year.  Symptoms of constipation include bloating, feeling full, lumpy or hard stools, pellet-like stools, or a feeling like a bowel movement isn’t complete.  Doctors emphasize that the earlier the treatment, the better. What causes constipation in kids?

Some of the causes of constipation include when kids don’t drink enough water, when they don’t eat enough fiber from fruits and vegetables and eat too many processed foods, and if they get enough physical exercise.

Also, if kids hold bowel movements it can disrupt the brain-colon connection that tells the colon that stool needs to get out. This disruption is a sneaky thing that can happen over a long period of time: Stool builds up, the colon gets stretched out, the stool gets harder, bowel movements get more painful, the cycle starts.

Kids can hold stool during potty training (when you’re potty training a toddler, make sure his feet are propped up on a stool), and for older kids, the start of the school year is also a time when constipation can set in.  Kids may not want to go to the bathroom at school or they may not be allowed to go except during designated periods (lunch, recess, at specific breaks).

Again, the earlier the situation is understood and treated the better.  More water, more fiber, and more exercise can help prevent the condition, but if you suspect it’s already happening put a call into your doctor to help your child get some relief.

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