Let's talk about poo! Raising awareness of childhood constipation

Childhood continence charity, ERIC (Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence), has launched a national awareness campaign to alert parents and carers to the early signs and symptoms of constipation.

Throughout February, posters in GP surgeries across the country will alert parents to the link between a child soiling their pants and underlying constipation. According to NICE guidelines, many parents don’t recognise the signs and symptoms of constipation and few relate the presence of soiling to constipation. The problem affects up to 30% of children and it becomes chronic in more than one in three cases.

Sharon Smith, 42, from Hertfordshire, says: ‘At age one, my daughter Jennifer began having very hard, painful poos – a warning sign of constipation that I wish I had recognised. As she became old enough to control her bowel, she started to withhold her poos for fear of pain. This led to the problem becoming worse and she would regularly have soiling accidents.

‘It’s been a constant battle for us over the last couple of years and we have really struggled as a family. Jennifer is now five and responding really well to medication. She still withholds some of the time, but I feel I can finally see light at the end of the tunnel – and am looking forward to a time when poo isn’t the main topic of conversation at the dinner table!’

Early intervention for constipation is crucial as the earlier the signs and symptoms are recognised the easier it is to resolve the problem. The effects of unrecognised or inadequately treated constipation in children can include significant abdominal pain, fecal incontinence, appetite suppression and low self-esteem. The long-term impact for the whole family can include social isolation, disruption to family life and feelings of frustration and despair.

The ERIC campaign, ‘Let’s Talk About Poo’ aims to encourage an open dialogue between parents and children about toileting.  Eileen Jacques, ERIC’s Hub Manager, says: ‘Many parents are simply unaware of the symptoms of constipation, such as soiling, and often think their child is being lazy.  We’ve launched this campaign to help parents understand how to recognise constipation in their child and seek early intervention.  Raising awareness will also help overcome the stigma surrounding this difficult and frustrating problem. Because it isn’t generally talked about, many parents just aren’t fully aware of what’s ‘normal’, and so it is very hard for them to spot the early signs.’

Many parents and carers who contact ERIC say that if they had known more about the issue, they could have sought help earlier and saved themselves weeks, months or years of difficulty dealing with the impact of constipation.  Early intervention can help to treat the problem before it becomes chronic so the campaign will empower more parents to spot the signs early and seek support.

Celebrity Lynda Bellingham is backing the Let’s Talk About Poo! campaign. She says: ‘I’m backing this campaign as constipation can become a serious problem for children if left untreated – and to urge parents – don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor, or to ERIC. You’re not alone, help is out there, and treating the problem as early as possible can prevent a range of serious physical, psychological and emotional issues from developing.’

The campaign posters are supported by resources that parents and children can use together with their healthcare professional, including a wall chart and a questionnaire.  The resources can be downloaded from the ERIC website, eric.org.uk which also has a wide range of information on childhood constipation. And parents who wants to discuss these issues can call ERIC’s helpline, on 0845 370 8008

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