Choosing Wisely

Constipation: Diagnosis, X-Rays, and more

Where else is the poop going to be? Constipation is by and large a clinical diagnosis. This episode reviews how to make the diagnosis, red flags, and why X-Rays don’t necessarily help assess stool burden adequately in most children.

This podcast episode is designed to disseminate the important work of Choosing Wisely, an initiative of the the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, the goal of which is the spark conversations between clinicians and patients about what tests, treatments, and procedures are needed – and which ones are not.

The Choosing Wisely recommendation: Do not obtain abdominal radiographs for suspected constipation

The Choosing Wisely Pediatric Emergency Medicine Recommendations

The Choosing Wisely Campaign Toolkit


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Anwar Ul Haq MM, Lyons H, Halim M. Pediatric Abdominal X-rays in the Acute Care Setting – Are We Overdiagnosing Constipation?. Cureus. 2020;12(3):e7283. Published 2020 Mar 15. doi:10.7759/cureus.7283

Beinvogl B, Sabharwal S, McSweeney M, Nurko S. Are We Using Abdominal Radiographs Appropriately in the Management of Pediatric Constipation?. J Pediatr. 2017;191:179-183. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.08.075

Berger MY, Tabbers MM, Kurver MJ, Boluyt N, Benninga MA. Value of abdominal radiography, colonic transit time, and rectal ultrasound scanning in the diagnosis of idiopathic constipation in children: a systematic review. J Pediatr. 2012;161(1):44–50.e502. DOI:

Freedman SB, Rodean J, Hall M, et al. Delayed diagnoses in children with constipation: multicenter retrospective cohort study. J Pediatr. 2017;186:87-94.e16. DOI:

Freedman SB, Thull-Freedman J, Manson D, et al. Pediatric abdominal radiograph use, constipation, and significant misdiagnoses. J Pediatr. 2014;164(1):83-88.e2

Hoskins B, Marek S. Things We Do for No Reason: Obtaining an Abdominal X-ray to Assess for Constipation in Children. J Hosp Med. 2020;15(9):557-559. doi:10.12788/jhm.3387

Kearney R, Edwards T, Braford M, Klein E. Emergency provider use of plain radiographs in the evaluation of pediatric constipation. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2019;35(9):624-629. DOI: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000001549

McSweeney ME, Chan Yuen J, Meleedy-Rey P, Day K, Nurko S. A Quality Improvement Initiative to Reduce Abdominal X-ray use in Pediatric Patients Presenting with Constipation. J Pediatr. 2022;251:127-133. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2022.07.016

NICE. Constipation in children and young people: diagnosis and management.  NICE. Clinical guideline [CG99] Published: 26 May 2010 Last updated: 13 July 2017. Available online at 

Pensabene L, Buonomo C, Fishman L, Chitkara D, Nurko S. Lack of utility of abdominal x-rays in the evaluation of children with constipation: Comparison of different scoring methods. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2010;51(2):155-159. DOI:

Reuchlin-Vroklage LM, Bierma-Zeinstra S, Benninga MA, Berger MY. Diagnostic value of abdominal radiography in constipated children: a systematic review. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005;159(7):671-678. doi:10.1001/archpedi.159.7.671

Rome IV Criteria:

Rothrock SG, Green SM, Hummel CB. Plain abdominal radiography in the detection of major disease in children: a prospective analysis. Ann Emerg Med. 1992;21(12):1423-1429. doi:10.1016/s0196-0644(05)80053-8

Tabbers MM, DiLorenzo C, Berger MY, et al. Evaluation and treatment of functional constipation in infants and children: Evidence-based recommendations from ESPGHAN and NASPGHAN. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2014;58(2):258-274. DOI: