Constipation in children and milk allergy

Severe constipation is generally defined as 3 or fewer bowel movements a week. This condition seems to affect many of the children who come to my office. Rarely have parents been informed, before seeing me, of a possible link between constipation in children and allergy to the protein in milk.

What sometimes confuses the issue is that routine blood tests for food allergies may not reveal a reaction to milk, but eliminating milk for a trial period from a child’s diet rarely fails to reduce or eliminate the problem.

A quick search on Medline, the Internet service that searches medical journals, yields 104 studies, all from reputable sources and some from pediatric publications, linking children’s constipation with allergy to milk. A few of these studies are:

• Allergic constipation: association with infantile milk allergy. Clin Pediatr (Phila) 2001 Jul;40(7):399-402
• Cow’s milk and chronic constipation in children. N Engl J Med 1999;340(11):891
• Constipation and intolerance to cow’s milk. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2000;30(2):224
• Constipation in children. N Engl J Med 1998;339(16):1155-6
• Allergy to cow’s milk presenting as chronic constipation. Br Med J 1983;287(6405):1593
• Constipation in childhood. BMJ 1989;299(6708):1116-7

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