Constipation and Cerebral Palsy

Associated Conditions, Patient Care

child holding stop sign to aching belly

Some children with cerebral palsy are susceptible to an array of digestive problems, one of which is constipation. Constipation is a relatively common symptom of the condition. It may be a minor ailment that goes away on its own, or it could develop into a chronic health issue. It’s important for parents and caregivers of patients with cerebral palsy to identify and manage the symptoms of constipation as early as possible to prevent them from becoming severe complications.

What Is Constipation?

Constipation is a condition that causes infrequent bowel movements and difficulty in passing stools. It affects almost everybody to a certain extent. The normal interval between bowel movements varies greatly from one person to another. While some people need to pass stool three times a day, others may do it less frequently. Constipation is generally defined as not having a bowel movement for three or more days. After three days, the stool becomes harder and more difficult to pass.

People with constipation may experience discomfort and become less capable of performing their daily activities. They may also have to strain excessively to empty their bowels. If left unattended, constipation can develop into a painful or even life-threatening condition.

How Cerebral Palsy Constipation Occurs

Children who suffer from cerebral palsy have a higher chance of experiencing constipation. This is because the condition leads to structural abnormalities in the central and peripheral nervous systems, which are responsible for controlling an array of involuntary body functions, including breathing, heartbeat, blood flow, and digestion. These abnormalities may hinder the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients and contribute to constipation. Additionally, symptoms of cerebral palsy such as muscle spasms, unusual positioning, poor mobility, and difficulty swallowing can also make a child more prone to constipation.

What Are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy Constipation?

The symptoms of cerebral palsy constipation may vary from one individual to another, but they generally include:

  • Passing stools fewer than three times a week
  • Having hard or lumpy stools
  • Straining while trying to pass stools
  • Feeling as if the stool in the rectum can’t be completely emptied
  • Feeling as if there’s a blockage in the rectum that interferes with normal bowel movements
  • Needing help to pass stools, such as pressing your abdomen or inserting a finger into the rectum to remove stool

If two or more of these symptoms occur over a three-month period, constipation may be a chronic condition.

Management of Constipation in Cerebral Palsy Patients

Children who are experiencing cerebral palsy constipation may be referred to a gastroenterologist, a medical specialist who focuses on treating digestive problems. A doctor or gastroenterologist may use a variety of methods for effective management of constipation in cerebral palsy patients, such as:

  • Dietary guidelines: Regular consumption of food that contains fiber can help treat constipation. Some examples of high-fiber food include whole-grain cereals, whole-wheat pasta, whole grain rice, oats, fruits, vegetables, beans, and dried peas. Cerebral palsy patients who have difficulty eating enough high-fiber food may have to take fiber supplements to relieve constipation.
  • Fluid recommendations: Children with cerebral palsy constipation are encouraged to consume more fluid. Water, juice, milk, jelly, yogurt, ice cream, custard, and ice are good sources of fluid. Prune juice and pear juice are known to be effective in easing constipation. The amount of fluid required daily varies depending on the age of the child.
  • Physical therapy: Cerebral palsy constipation therapy aims to minimize inactive sitting time by encouraging patients to change positions regularly. It generally also includes an array of exercises and activities that can improve bowel movements, such as flexing the hips up and down, rotating and flexing the trunk, “running” the legs, and huffing and puffing.
  • Occupational therapy: An occupational therapist can develop a personalized toilet training program to help a cerebral palsy patient overcome constipation. Such a program may include practices such as following a regular toileting schedule, encouraging toileting soon after a meal or bath, and achieving proper balance and posture on the toilet. Some children with cerebral palsy need to undergo occupational therapy to learn how to squeeze their stomach muscles and push hard to empty their bowels.
  • Medications: In some cases, patients with cerebral palsy may require medication to maintain regular bowel habits. Parents should consult their doctors to find out whether medication is a suitable treatment option for their children.

Constipation is only one of the many possible symptoms of cerebral palsy. Children with cerebral palsy may experience a variety of disorders that undermine their ability to care for themselves, which could lead to significant hardship and financial burden for their parents. If you think that your child’s cerebral palsy could have resulted from medical negligence, you may be legally eligible for compensation. With extensive experience and expertise in fighting medical malpractice cases, Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC can help you seek any compensation you may deserve. Contact us today to speak with our Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers.



Claire Surles, RN
Reviewed by:
Claire Surles, RN
Registered Nurse

Claire comes to JJS after a 10-year career as a labor and delivery nurse. She dedicated her hospital efforts to advocating for families, providing the safest birthing environment possible as Newborn Admission Nurse at UMMC St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland. Her passion for helping those who experienced losses at any stage of gestation led to her appointment as Coordinator of the hospital’s ROOTS perinatal loss program. READ FULL BIO

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