Childhood Constipation Deemed Significant Health Issue

November 25, 2008

According to new research conducted at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the burden of illness in children suffering from constipation, and the costs associated with this condition, are roughly of the same magnitude as those for asthma and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

These findings are a result of a study involving gastroenterologists and researchers at Nationwide Children’s to estimate the health care utilization and cost for children with constipation in the United States. The study, available online at PubMed.gov, is slated for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics in early 2009.

Using a nationally representative survey, clinicians and researchers analyzed data of children under 18 years of age who were diagnosed with constipation or prescribed a laxative over two-consecutive years (2003 and 2004). 

Results showed that children with constipation used more health services than children without the condition, amounting to an additional cost of $3.9 billion each year for children with constipation. Despite this amplified cost impact and its prevalence during childhood, constipation has not received the amount of attention in public health campaigns that similarly occurring asthma and ADHD have.

“Despite being considered by many a relatively benign condition, childhood constipation has been shown to be associated with a significantly decreased quality of life,” said the study’s author, Carlo Di Lorenzo, MD, chief of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s and faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “The day-to-day struggle caused by constipation can often be emotionally devastating, and can also have an impact on the overall health and well-being of affected children and their families.”

Researchers and clinicians hope that health care utilization and cost estimates revealed in this study can boost awareness of childhood constipation, awareness that could result in earlier treatment. 

“In many cases, constipation in children can be prevented or corrected through dietary and behavioral changes," said Hayat Mousa, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “Parents should talk to their children about their bathroom habits and make sure they are having a bowel movement at least every other day. For mild cases of constipation, prune or apple juice, high-fiber cereal, or over-the-counter softeners or laxatives made for children may help. If the problem persists, parents should seek the advice of a medical professional.”

About Nationwide Children's Hospital

Named to the Top 10 Honor Roll on U.S. News & World Report’s 2017-18 list of “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of America’s largest not-for-profit freestanding pediatric healthcare systems providing wellness, preventive, diagnostic, treatment and rehabilitative care for infants, children and adolescents, as well as adult patients with congenital disease. Nationwide Children’s has a staff of nearly 13,000 providing state-of-the-art pediatric care during more than 1.4 million patient visits annually. As home to the Department of Pediatrics of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Nationwide Children’s physicians train the next generation of pediatricians and pediatric specialists. The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of the Top 10 National Institutes of Health-funded freestanding pediatric research facilities. More information is available at NationwideChildrens.org.