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Hirschsprung’s Disease and Constipation

Hirschsprung’s disease is a disease of the large intestine, also called the colon. The disease usually occurs in children and causes severe constipation. The disease is present when a baby is born resulting from missing nerve cells in the last portion of a baby’s colon. It causes constipation because the baby has problems passing stool. Some children with HD can’t have bowel movements at all. The stool creates a blockage in the intestine. If not treated, stool can fill up the large intestine and cause serious problems such as infection, bursting of the colon, and even death. In mild cases, doctors may not detect HD until later in a child’s life.

Normally, muscles in the intestine push stool to the anus, where it is expelled from the body. A person with HD does not have these nerve cells in the portion of the large intestine. Therefore, the stool stops moving and any new stool backs up behind it. The only treatment for HD is surgery. The surgery involves removing the part of the intestine that doesn’t work and connecting the healthy part that’s left to the anus. After surgery, 9 out of 10 children pass stool normally.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of HD usually show up in very young children. Sometimes, they don’t show until teenage and adult years. The symptoms are a little different for different ages.

Newborns

  • Do not have the first bowel movement when they should.
  • Throwing up green liquid, or bowel and swelling of the abdomen
  • Constipation & Gas
  • Intestinal Infection

Young Children

  • Severe constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Anemia
  • Shortage of red blood cells
  • Slow growth and development

Teenagers and Adults

  • Severe constipation
  • Anemia

Diet and Nutrition

After surgery most children with Hirschsprung’s disease go on to live a normal life. However, HD can lead to malnutrition and weight loss, especially in very young children.

The colon absorbs much of the water and salts the body needs. Since the child’s intestine is shorter now, it absorbs less. Your child will need to drink more fluids to make sure his body receives adequate amounts.

Some children may require tube feeding because the shortened intestine does not allow the bloodstream enough time to absorb nutrients from food before it is expelled from the body as stool. Tube feedings deliver nutrients thus making up for what is lost.

Eating high-fiber foods like cereal and bran muffins can help reduce constipation and diarrhea.

Check out this video on Hirschsprung’s disease.