If your child's constipation lasts longer than two weeks, you'll likely first seek medical care from your child's doctor. If necessary, your child may be referred to a specialist in digestive disorders (gastroenterologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your child's diet.
- Write down any symptoms your child is experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment. It's also a good idea to write down your child's signs and symptoms. Record the date your child's constipation started and any other coinciding events. Include notes about stool frequency and appearance, any changes you've noticed in stool patterns (frequency, volume and content), as well as what and how much your child eats and drinks.
- Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that your child is taking. Let your child's doctor know what steps you've taken to try to treat your child's constipation.
- Write down questions to ask your child's doctor.
Your time with your child's doctor may be limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. For constipation in children, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's the most likely cause of my child's symptoms?
- Are there any other possible causes?
- What kinds of tests does my child need?
- How long might this condition last?
- What treatments do you recommend?
- Do I need to make any changes to my child's diet?
- Should we see a specialist?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
- Can this problem be treated without medication?
- Are there brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:
- When did your child first begin experiencing symptoms of constipation?
- Have your child's symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your child's symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your child's symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to worsen your child's symptoms?
- Do you see blood with your child's bowel movements, either mixed in with the stool, in the toilet water or on the toilet paper?
- Does your child soil his or her underwear?
- Does your child strain with bowel movements?
- Does your child have a family history of digestive problems?
- Has your child started any new medications or changed the dosage of current medications?
- Can you describe your child's toilet-training experience?
What you can do in the meantime
There are several things you can do that might help relieve your child's constipation before your doctor's appointment, for example:
Aug. 23, 2013
- Give your child prune juice. Prune juice can be mixed with other juices (such as apple juice) if your child doesn't like the taste. It's also important to make sure toddlers and older children are drinking sufficient water.
- Cut back on constipating foods. Give toddlers and older children fewer foods that might lead to constipation, such as milk and cheese.
- If able, take your child for a walk or run. Regular physical activity can encourage bowel movements.
- Ease up on toilet training. If you suspect that toilet training may be playing a role in your child's constipation, take a break from toilet training for a bit to see if the constipation improves.
- Tabbers MM, et al. Nonpharmacologic treatments for childhood constipation: Systematic review. Pediatrics. 2011;128:753.
- Constipation in children. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/constipationchild/. Accessed June 12, 2013.
- Ferry GD. Constipation in children: Etiology and diagnosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 12, 2013.
- Hay WW, et al. Current Diagnosis & Treatment: Pediatrics. 21st ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=14. Accessed June 12, 2013.
- Constipation in children. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/approach_to_the_care_of_normal_infants_and_children/constipation_in_children.html. Accessed June 12, 2013.
- Ferry GD. Prevention and treatment of acute constipation in infants and children. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 12, 2013.
- Ferry GD. Treatment of chronic functional constipation and fecal incontinence in infants and children. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 13, 2013.
- Constipation. National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/constipation/. Accessed June 10, 2013.
- Young L, et al. Integrative care for pediatric patients with pain. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. In press. Accessed June 13, 2013.
- Hoecker JL (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 27, 2013.