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Providing relief for constipated children and young people

child smilingAn estimated 5-30% of children have constipation and, for more than a third of them, it could lead to surgery, years of treatment and problems with bowel incontinence. That's not to mention the social, psychological and educational difficulties it can cause.

However, many parents and some healthcare workers don't recognise the symptoms or may feel too embarrassed to seek help.

New advice from NICE aims to change all this.

Constipation in children and young people: diagnosis and management of idiopathic childhood constipation in primary and secondary care makes recommendations to healthcare workers on what to look out for and how to diagnose and manage ‘idiopathic' constipation in babies, children and young people.

‘Idiopathic' constipation is when the causes are unknown but anything serious has been ruled out.

Karen, who was a ‘lay' member of the NICE committee that helped develop the recommendations, hopes they will “encourage healthcare professionals to take constipation seriously from the very first appointment”.

Karen has a child with idiopathic constipation and she says that it is simply not good enough to make parents like her feel bad about the diet their children are on.

Constipation has many symptoms. Obvious ones include stomach ache and excessive wind. Less obvious ones include ‘soiling', having a poor appetite and being irritable or unhappy.

Karen welcomes the focus on using laxatives.

“The guidelines say that laxatives should be encouraged from the outset and children should be reviewed frequently to make sure that the constipation has been cleared, and that a normal pattern of bowel movements is established,” she explains.

Lynne Watson, a specialist health visitor, is pleased that the recommendations “dispel the myth that laxative therapy should only be used for a minimum period of time”.

She describes them as providing: “very clear guidelines to aid practitioners in not only recognising constipation but in diagnosing idiopathic constipation.”

This page was last updated: 28 May 2010

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Accessibility | Cymraeg | Freedom of information | Vision Impaired | Contact Us | Glossary | Data protection | Copyright | Disclaimer | Terms and conditions

Copyright 2014 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. All rights reserved.