Constipation is a growing health problem and indicates more serious and chronic problems among children. The John Hopkins Children’s Center reports a 30 percent increase in constipation related visits between 2008 and 2009.

According to director of pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition at the center, Maria Oliva-Hemker, many children are either not treated at all, start treatment too late or provided inadequate treatment, leading to severe and chronic constipation. Many parents even believe that constipation will stop on its own, a little dietary change can fix it, or children will outgrow the problem.

She found that most children have functional constipation which is not caused by a disease or a physical abnormality. These children have fewer than three bowel movements per week for any three months of the year.

Mild constipation is associated with a lack of physical exercise, poor water intake, and diets lacking in sufficient fiber. But severe constipation needs to be treated early and aggressively. She warned that just giving fiber-rich food and prune juice will not correct the chronic cases.

The symptoms of constipation in children include abdominal bloating, feeling of fullness, lumpy or hard pellet like stools, straining during bowel movements, soiling of underwear, and bedwetting. Some children even refuse to go to the bathroom or hide due to the pain associated with the problem. This symptoms need to be immediately addressed by a doctor.

Children often get constipation during the periods of toilet training, starting school, travel, camping, viral illnesses, and dietary changes. Use of certain medications, such as antacids and antidepressants can lead to constipation too. Children who have diabetes, ADHD, or Down’ Syndrome are more likely to develop the condition.

Over-the counter osmotic products such as polyethylene glycol-electrolytes, which increase the amount of water in the colon, can be used as an initial treatment for chronic constipation in children. Laxatives can be given to children, but parents should consult a physician before doing so, according to a National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Disease recommendation.

Children with constipation will develop the same or even worse problem when they grow into adults. Parents should be careful about preventing it from developing. They must ensure that the child drinks lots of water, is physically active, eats foods rich in fiber such as fruit and vegetables, avoids processed foods and foods high in sugar and fat. The child also must be trained not “hold” or ignore the urge to go to the bathroom.