Parenting means getting intimate with several things in your child’s life, not the least of which are their bowel movements. Conversations on the topic are bound to strike daily — from the moment that first diaper comes off, to when the child can use the bathroom unassisted for the first time, to why they have a belly ache. Be thankful. Knowing these things help parents understand their children’s bowel regularity (or irregularity), which can lead to bigger problems if left unaddressed. Irregular bowel movements may lead to constipation, which can then ultimately lead to over time in painful hemorrhoids, swollen veins in the walls of the anal canal that breach the tissue of the anus. No fun for adults, and really no fun for kids.
Hemorrhoids are common in adults — roughly 75 percent of adults will experience them by age 50. But they occur much less frequently in children. The majority of childhood hemorrhoid cases resolve themselves quickly; however, pediatric hemorrhoids can indicate a more serious condition, and a healthcare provider should examine your child if you think hemorrhoids have struck. Here’s what to look for and when to schedule an appointment:
Bloody stools, the inability to produce a bowel movement and the sensation of fullness, even after having a movement, are common symptoms of hemorrhoids in children.
The most common cause is constipation, which can result in large, hard stools that get stuck in the rectum. Straining to expel them can lead to hemorrhoids. Constipation occurs when children withhold poop (voluntarily or not). This stretches the colon, which presses against the bladder and enflames the nerves. Children may withhold a bowel movement starting at very young ages for a variety of reasons: They are stressed about toilet training, anxious about using a public bathroom, are distracted by playtime or dread a painful bowel movement.
Handling Hemorrhoids with Kid Gloves
Start with increasing fiber in your child’s diet to soften stools, which makes their bowel movements less painful. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends giving children “age plus five” grams of fiber. For instance, a six-year-old should eat “6 plus five” grams, or 11 grams, of fiber daily. In addition, kids should drink an average of eight, 8-ounce glasses of water or other liquid low in sugar content daily. Parents can relieve a child’s discomfort through several warm baths and by placing cool compresses on the affected area. And be sure to keep the inflamed area dry and clean.
How To Know If It’s More Serious
Occasionally the presence of hemorrhoids can indicate more serious conditions. Consult your pediatrician or healthcare provider to determine whether the childhood hemorrhoids are a symptom of one of the following:
- Juvenile Polyps Syndrome: A juvenile polyp is a growth on the lining of the intestine and is relatively common in children. They can cause polyps in the large intestine, small intestine and stomach and can lead to bleeding, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and anemia.
- Crohn’s Disease: A chronic disease that affects approximately 1.4 million Americans, Crohn’s causes inflammation across the lining of the digestive tract. Symptoms can include frequent diarrhea, stomach pain, blood in stool, fevers, weight loss, and joint, skin, and eye irritations.
- Pediatric Ulcerative Colitis: A chronic disease that causes inflammation of the large intestine or rectum, ulcerative colitis symptoms typically include abdominal pain, straining during bowel movements and bloody diarrhea.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): IBS symptoms include chronic or recurrent abdominal pain, altered bowel habits and bloating. IBS is the most common gastrointestinal diagnoses in the U.S., and often begins to manifest itself in childhood.
Hemorrhoids can be uncomfortable and scary to children, although the majority of the time they can be remedied through hydration, an increased fiber diet and time. And maybe an extra cozy hug or two throughout the day.