Constipation is one of the common digestive disorders found in children/infants and is caused due to unusual bowel movements. It may refer to the infant passing dry and hard stool in small amounts or passing stool less frequently than his/her normal pattern of bowel movement. These conditions can be very painful for the infant but are usually temporary and can be treated easily. 

Constipation is caused due to over absorption of water by the colon (large intestine). Stool is formed by the colon as food passes through it; water gets absorbed by colon, solid stool is produced and pushed forward towards the rectum through muscle contractions. If muscle contractions in the colon become slow, stool movement through the colon slows down correspondingly and results in greater water absorption by the colon. Thus, the stool formed in such situations is very hard, dry and causes pain in movement. 

Some of the major conditions that lead to constipation include

  • Shift of diet from soft/liquid foods to solid foods

  • Shift from breast milk to formula milk

  • Lack of water intake

  • A bad diaper rash

  • Hot weather

  • Viral illness

  • Infant subjected to early toilet training

In very rare cases, instead of these, any ailment might cause constipation which includes problems of the endocrine, nervous system, intestinal tract, rectum or anus.​

Following actions by an infant are symptomatic of constipation. 

  • Forming straining faces

  • Refusal to eating

  • Firmness in belly

  • Pain in stomach

  • Squeezing buttocks together and arching the back

  • Appearance of small amounts of soft stool in the underwear

  • Passing urine more frequently than usual​​

If you notice any of the above symptoms, inform your doctor at the Children's Hospital Service Line at The Aga Khan University Hospital if you see any of the above symptoms. Our doctors at the Children's Hospital at The Aga Khan University Hospital a will be able to guide you through the prognosis and suggest a relevant form of treatment.​

Your time with your doctor maybe limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started​.

The doctor may begin the diagnosis by taking patient’s medical history. The parent would have to answer various questions related to the kind of food their infant eats, age at which he or she passed their first stool, the frequency of stool passing, and so on. These questions would help the doctor in determining regular pattern of the infant’s bowel movement.

The doctor may then decide to examine the patient physically by putting a gloved finger into their rectum and feel for anything abnormal like presence of any obstruction, enlargement or blood. This physical test is named as Digital Rectum Examination.

Doctor may also advise some complex diagnostic tests which include the following:

  • Abdominal X-ray: To determine the amount of stool present in large intestine

  • Lower Gastrointestinal (GI) Series or Barium Enema: To get a detailed X-ray of the rectum, colon and some parts of small intestine. In this test, barium is as an enema and the abdomen is examined for presence of any obstruction, narrowed areas or other problems.

  • Anorectal Manometry or Motility Test: To check if the muscles are functioning properly and if they can sense the need of bowel movement. This is done by inserting a catheter into the rectum.

  • Rectal Biopsy: To observe behaviour of rectum cells under microscope, a small tissue sample is taken from inner lining of the rectum.

  • Colonoscopy: To view the large intestine from inside and check for causes of constipation, pain etc. A colonoscope is passed through the rectum and into the intestine, which blows air inside, causing the intestine to swell and provide an easy view inside. 

  • Lab testing: Lab tests may also be carried out to identify any related diseases or infections. If needed, biopsies can also be taken during this procedure.

  • Complete Blood count (CBC): One or more parameters related to red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets might be affected in this condition, giving a clue towards etiology and further diagnostic approach. Therefore, it is an ancillary test in the diagnostic workup of this disease.

Disclaimer: Kindyconsult your physician before getting the above-mentioned tests.
Depending on the severity of disease and condition of patient, he or she will be treated differently.  Sometimes, they may only require an adjustment in their diet such as increase in fibre rich foods, fruits and vegetables, and fluids like water and juices. In other cases, the patient might be treated by some laxatives or enema​.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments' costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.