Researchers recently looked at nearly 10,000 emergency room visits at one hospital by children who were experiencing abdominal pain, and what they found may surprise you: The most common diagnosis, found in more than 25% of the kids who were diagnosed with anything, was constipation. "Parents are shocked that that's their child's diagnosis," says the lead author. Even the pediatrician who wrote up the study in the New York Times was surprised by her own child's constipation diagnosis, because she had asked him about that exact issue. But, as her child's pediatrician explained, "Sometimes kids don't want to tell their mom."
Constipation is a touchy subject, since many link it to a poor diet or a sedentary lifestyle, but it can start very early in children as they struggle against their parents' potty training methods. As they get older, kids may not want to use the bathroom at school. "Withholding" in either of these cases can lead to problems, and they can get worse as children develop "defecation anxiety," a pediatric psychologist explains. All the while, parents may have no idea; they may even think their children are dealing with diarrhea (extreme cases of constipation can lead to liquid stool; see the Times if you need the gory details). Unfortunately, the problems can persist for years, even into adulthood.