One in four children will have constipation at some point, caused by a number of things like, not eating enough fibre or fruits and vegetables, not wanting to use unfamiliar bathrooms and ignoring the urge to go while playing.
"And children have a very concrete way of thinking. If something doesn't feel good, 'I'll never do that again," said Carlo Di Lorenzo, MD at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
In the new study at Nationwide Children's Hospital led by Di Lorenzo has found that constipation can lead to serious health issues and skyrocketing costs, to the tune of nearly four billion dollars a year. That equals the cost of treating childhood asthma or even ADHD.
Di Lorenzo said that parents don't realize constipation can be just as serious. It can result in pain, problems at school, and sometimes the need for surgery.
The study involved gastroenterologists and researchers and was aimed to estimate the health care utilization and cost for children with constipation in the United States.
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 dollars 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 Di Lorenzo, .
He added: "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."
The investigators 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.
"It's traumatic to them, then they end up with low self esteem as if something is wrong with them and it's really not," said Hayat Mousa, MD at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
Mousa added: "In many cases, constipation in children can be prevented or corrected through dietary and behavioral changes.
"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."
The study, available online at PubMed.gov, is slated for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics in early 2009.