Constipaton is a common disturbane of the divestive tract. In this condition , the bowels do not move regularly, or are not completely emptied when they move. The stools are unduly hard and unusual straining may be required to achieve defecation. It is one of the most troublesome disorders of childhood and a major cause of maternal anxiety.
Constipation is the chief cause of many disease, as such a condition produces toxins which find their way into the blood stream and are carried to all parts of the body. This results in weakening of the vital organs and lowering of the resistance of the entire system.
The number of motions required for normal health varies from child to child. Most children have one motion a day, some have two a day, while others have one every other day. However, for comfort and health, at least one clear bowel movement a day is essential and is considered normal.
The most common symptoms of constipation are infrequency, irregularity or difficulty of elimination due to hard faecal matter. Among the other symptoms are coated tongue, foul breath, loss of appetite, constant fullnesss in the abdomen and diarrhoea alternating with constipation.
Improper diet and irregular habits are the chief causes of constipation. All foods in their natural state contain a good percentage of 'roughage' which is most essential in preserving natural balance of foods and also in helping peristalsis - the natural rhythmic action by means of which the food is passed down the alimentary canal. Much of the food children eat today is deficient in natural bulk or roughage and this results in chronic constipation.
The intake of refined and rich foods lacking in vitamins and minerals, insufficient intake of water, insufficient chewing, overeating, wrong combination of foods, irregular habits of eating and drinking may all contribute to poor bowel function. Other causes include faulty and irregular habit of defecation and frequent use purgatives.
The treatment for constipation will depend uponthe age of the child whether he is a small baby or a child, four or five years of age. When a baby is on breast-feeding, constipation is usually the result of wrong feeding on the part of the mother, and it must be corrected. The baby should be kept on water and orage juice for a day, and small enema of warm water given. In the alternative, a glycerine suppository may be applied. Laxative should be avoided as far as possible. Also if the baby is artifically fed, the cause is wrong feeding, and this should be rectified.
For a chld of two years or more, an all-fruit diet for two or three days and the adoption of a sensible diet formula thereafter, according to the chld's age, will soon cure the condition. On no account should purgatives be given. A small warm-water enema should be given daily while the child is on all -fruit diet, and the older child should be encouraged to take plenty of exercise. A little olive oil, given preferably with the salad meal, will help.
The most important factor in curing constipation is a natural and simple diet. This should consist of unrefined foods such as whole grain cereals, bran, honey, molasses and lentils ; green and leafy vegetables, especially spinach, french beans, tomatoes, lettuce, onion, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip, pumpkin, beets and carrot ; fresh fruits, especially pears, grapes, figs, papaya, mangoes, gosseberries, guava and orange ; dry fruits such as figs, raisins, apricots and dates ; milk products in the form of butter, ghee and cream.
Sugar and sugary foods should be avoided because sugar steals the B vitamins from the body, without which the intestines cannot function normally. Foods which result in constipation are products made of white flour, pulses, cakes, pastries, biscuits, cheese, flesh foods, preserves, white sugar and hard boiled eggs.
Drinking water is beneficial not only for cons-stipation but also for cleansing of the system, diluting the blood and washing out poisons. Water should, however, not be taken with meals, as it dilutes the gastric juices essential for proper digestion. Water should be taken either half an hour before or an hour after meals.
Generally, all fruits, except banana and jackfruit, are beneficial in the treatment of constipation. Certain fruits are, however, more effective. Bael fruit is regarded as best of all laxatives. It cleans and tones up the intestines. Its regular use for two or three months throws out even the old accumulated faecal matter. It should be preferably used in its original form and before dinner. About 30 grams of the fruit will suffice for a child. Pears are regarded the next best fruit beneficial in the treatment of constipation. In ordinary cases, a medium-sized pear taken after dinner or with breakfast will have the desired effect.
Grapes have also proved highly beneficial in overcoming constipation. The combination of the properties of the cellulose, sugar and organic acid in grapes make them a laxative food. Their field of action is not limited to clearing the bowel only. They also tone up the stomach and intestines and relieve the most chronic constipation. The child should take atleast 150 grams of grapes daily to achieve the desired results. When fresh grapes are not available, raising soaked in water can be used. Drinking hot water with sour lime juice and a little salt is also an effective remedy for constipation.
The child-patient may be given abdominal massage which is beneficial in the treatment of constipation. It stimulates the persitalsis of the small intestines, tones up the muscles of the abdomen walls and mechanically eliminates the contents of both large and small intestines. The procedure for this massage has been explained in the appendix.
For constipation accompanied by abdominal pain and tenderness, the hot fomentation is a remedy for great value and can be used with beneficial results. A cloth wrung out of hot water should be applied to the abdomen. It should be renewed every five or six minutes. Three successive application may be made at a time, while applying hot fomentation to the abdomen, the feet should be kept warm by applying hot water bottles.
Cold hip bath is highly beneficial in the treatment of constipation and older children should be encouraged to take this bath in accordance with the procedure outlined in the appendix. They should also be encouraged to under-take outdoor games, walking, swimming and other exercises, all of which play an important role in strengthening and activating the muscles, thereby preventing constipation.