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For people with Down syndrome, family members, caregivers and professionals.

Constipation in Down Syndrome

September 2017 | Samantha Ghanayem-Bouikidis, MD - Family Medicine Resident, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital

Constipation is a common problem in people with Down syndrome as well as the general population. Studies show that chronic constipation affects between 2 and 27% of the general population. It is thought to be more common in people with Down syndrome due to lower muscle tone (making bowel movements more difficult to pass), other medical conditions that can cause constipation such as hypothyroidism and celiac disease (both of which are more common in people with Down syndrome), inactive lifestyles, diets poor in fiber, medication side effects, and lack of hydration.

Constipation is when a person has infrequent bowel movements, which is usually defined as having fewer than three bowel movements per week. It is characterized by hard, lumpy, difficult to pass stools. These can sometimes causing bleeding with passage. Other symptoms of constipation include bloating and abdominal discomfort, pain with pooping, straining with pooping, a feeling of incomplete emptying (tenesmus), and stool incontinence (or accidents). Constipation can also cause urine incontinence and is a risk factor for urinary tract infections. In people with Down syndrome, communicating the symptoms related to constipation may be difficult and sometimes a behavior change may be the only symptom readily identified. Sometimes constipation can be missed because a person will be having bowel movements regularly that are loose and easy to pass but these softer stools may be moving past a hard stool lodged in the rectum that hasn’t passed.

If you are concerned that a person may be experiencing constipation, there are some things you can try at home to improve these symptoms. Drinking more water, being more active, and taking in more fruit and vegetables all can help improve constipation. Sometimes the addition of a fiber supplement or a stool softener or mild laxative is necessary, all of which should be discussed with a doctor before initiating. Sometimes the physician may want to evaluate further with an abdominal x-ray or blood tests to ensure that hypothyroidism, celiac disease, or Hirschsprung’s disease aren’t contributing factors to the constipation.


"Gastrointestinal Tract and Down Syndrome." National Down Syndrome Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2017.

"Children with Down Syndrome and Gastrointestinal Issues." Down Syndrome | NACD | Health & Wellness | Gastrointestinal Issues. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2017.

Sanchez, Maria Ines Pinto, and Premysl Bercik. "Epidemiology and Burden of Chronic Constipation." Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology. Pulsus Group Inc, Oct. 2011. Web. 22 June 2017.

Please note: The information on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for a medical, psychiatric, mental health, or behavioral evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment plan by a qualified professional. We recommend you review the educational material with your health providers regarding the specifics of your health care needs.