My child came to the doctor’s office for constipation and was diagnosed with celiac disease, is this common?
This is a question we get a lot at the Pediatric Celiac Disease & Gluten-Related Disorders Program at NYU Langone Health. Constipation is one of the leading complaints that bring patients to our office, and it is often seen as a presenting symptom for celiac disease in children. Interestingly, a study looking specifically at children with celiac disease in Western NY highlighted that constipation was the second most common presenting complaint at the doctor’s office, following abdominal pain. Luckily for us, constipation usually improves as the inflammation in the small intestines begins to resolve. This is accomplished by being on a strict gluten-free diet.
While the gluten-free diet is absolutely essential for a child with celiac disease, it is highly recommended that patients and their parents work closely with a knowledgeable dietician to ensure that children meet their daily fiber recommendations. This is because fiber is very important for managing and preventing constipation. Although your child has removed a majority of whole grains from their diet, there are many other sources of dietary fiber that we can include such as those found in fruits and vegetables. There is also a variety of fiber supplements that can be used if you feel that making more changes to your child’s diet will not be successful.
Lastly, don’t forget to remind your children to drink plenty of liquids throughout the day! Liquids are very important to keep your child hydrated and to enhance the motility of their intestines. Liquids should be in the form of water and not sugary drinks such as sodas or juice. I always recommend sending your child with a water bottle to school and encouraging them to finish it prior to lunch and then refilling it again for the afternoon.
If you find that your child’s constipation is not resolving with strict adherence to the gluten-free diet please speak to your provider. They will be able to help tailor a specialized plan to manage your child’s symptoms.
Leora Hauptman, MS, RN, CPNP is a nurse practitioner in the Pediatric Celiac Disease & Gluten-Related Disorders Program, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone. Mrs. Hauptman has many years of experience working with children with gastrointestinal disorders and developmental disabilities.