Constipation and paediatric emergency department utilization

Alison Nutter, Garth Meckler, Mimi Truong, Quynh Doan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Constipation is a common condition in children. Little is known about the acute health care utilization of constipated children, including how many present to the paediatric emergency department (ED), the spectrum of presenting complaints, investigations and treatments used. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional chart review of all 42,875 visits to British Columbia Children's Hospital ED between August 31, 2012 and September 1, 2013. All visits were assessed for a potential diagnosis of constipation and a total of 913 patients were included. We recorded the chief complaints, tests performed and therapies administered in the ED and measures of flow/efficiency including waiting time (WT), length of stay (LOS) and disposition. Results: Constipation-related visits comprised 2.1% of overall visits. Abdominal pain was found to be the most common presenting complaint in 65.6% of patients; however, 11.9% of patients presented with complaints unrelated to the gastrointestinal tract. Abdominal radiographs were obtained in nearly one-Third of patients and almost half of the patients received a fleet enema in the ED. Only a quarter of patients were discharged home on longer-Term management. Measures of ED flow were similar between groups, with no meaningful difference in WT or LOS. The vast majority of children (99.7%) were discharged home. Conclusions: Constipation can be treated as an out-patient, rather than burdening the paediatric ED unnecessarily. This study demonstrates over utilization of radiologic tests and invasive ED treatments and an under utilization of outpatient medication and dietary counselling that may contribute to unnecessary return ED visits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-142
Number of pages4
JournalPaediatrics and Child Health (Canada)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Constipation
  • ER
  • Flow
  • Investigations
  • Treatment
  • Unnecessary

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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