To determine the frequency of performance of digital rectal examination by primary care practitioners on children with chronic constipation and to assess its effect on therapy.
Patients and Methods
One hundred twenty-eight children referred for chronic constipation to the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology at Schneider Children's Hospital, New Hyde Park, NY, as well as their parents were questioned as to whether a digital rectal examination was ever performed prior to referral. All children underwent subsequent digital rectal examination by a pediatric gastroenterologist and recommended treatment regimens were compared with pretreatment regimens. The patients evaluated were a mix of private-insurance and Medicaid patients referred by pediatricians in the general community.
Ninety-eight (77%) of the children referred for chronic constipation were found to have never had a digital rectal examination performed prior to referral. Fifty-three (54%) of these children were found to have fecal impaction. Only 19 (21%) were found to have minimal to no stool retention on digital examination. Enema therapy had been infrequently used to "clean out" the colon in referred children. Seventy percent were treated with multiple enema therapy following digital rectal examination. Organic causes of constipation were identified in 3 patients.
Digital rectal examination is often not performed in the examination of the child with chronic constipation. The digital examination can help differentiate functional constipation from an organic process and may alter the course of therapy.