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Constipation leads to stomach pain in children

Constipation is the most common cause of acute abdominal pain in children.

Constipation leads to stomach pain in children

Constipation is the most common cause of acute abdominal pain in children. Researchers from the University of Iowa, Iowa studied 962 children aged four years and above for six months. Children who were seen for at least one health maintenance visit during the six-month period were reviewed retrospectively for complaints and cause of acute abdominal pain. It was found that nine per cent of the children had a visit for acute abdominal pain, with significantly more girls (12 per cent) than boys (five per cent) having this complaint. Acute and chronic constipation were the most frequent causes of acute abdominal pain, occurring in 48 per cent children. Another 7, 14, and 8 per cent of the acute abdominal pain was attributed to colic, infection and other causes, respectively, while two per cent required surgery due to appendicitis and hernia. The cause for acute abdominal pain remained unknown in 19 per cent of the patients. Also, no significant differences were observed in diagnoses in the primary care clinics versus emergency department. Prior to examination, 66 per cent of the children had been complaining of pain for 30 minutes to three days; another 23 per cent had pain lasting from 3–7 days and the remaining children had pain over the previous seven days to five weeks. Despite these children meeting the criteria for constipation, including less than three stools per week, one or more episode of fecal incontinence per week, large stools or painful defecation, neither the parents nor the children associated the abdominal pain with constipation. This could be because parents are frequently unaware of their child's bowel habits, and may count soiling episodes as bowel movements. Physicians may likewise overlook constipation as the cause of abdominal pain by just asking for normal or abnormal bowel habits and not for other symptoms that define constipation. Thus, a rectal examination is important to determine the cause of acute abdominal pain in children, particularly if the history does not indicate the cause.
The Journal of Pediatrics,
December 2007
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