Strategies used for childhood chronic functional constipation: the SUCCESS evidence synthesis

Alex Todhunter-Brown*, Lorna Booth, Pauline Campbell, Brenda Cheer, Julie Cowie, Andrew Elders, Suzanne Hagen, Karen Jankulak, Helen Mason, Clare Millington, Margaret Ogden, Charlotte Paterson, Davina Richardson, Debs Smith, Jonathan Sutcliffe, Katie Thomson, Claire Torrens, Doreen McClurg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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BACKGROUND: Up to 30% of children have constipation at some stage in their life. Although often short-lived, in one-third of children it progresses to chronic functional constipation, potentially with overflow incontinence. Optimal management strategies remain unclear.

OBJECTIVE: To determine the most effective interventions, and combinations and sequences of interventions, for childhood chronic functional constipation, and understand how they can best be implemented.

METHODS: Key stakeholders, comprising two parents of children with chronic functional constipation, two adults who experienced childhood chronic functional constipation and four health professional/continence experts, contributed throughout the research. We conducted pragmatic mixed-method reviews. For all reviews, included studies focused on any interventions/strategies, delivered in any setting, to improve any outcomes in children (0-18 years) with a clinical diagnosis of chronic functional constipation (excluding studies of diagnosis/assessment) included. Dual reviewers applied inclusion criteria and assessed risk of bias. One reviewer extracted data, checked by a second reviewer. Scoping review: We systematically searched electronic databases (including Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online, Excerpta Medica Database, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature) (January 2011 to March 2020) and grey literature, including studies (any design) reporting any intervention/strategy. Data were coded, tabulated and mapped. Research quality was not evaluated. Systematic reviews of the evidence of effectiveness: For each different intervention, we included existing systematic reviews judged to be low risk of bias (using the Risk of Bias Assessment Tool for Systematic Reviews), updating any meta-analyses with new randomised controlled trials. Where there was no existing low risk of bias systematic reviews, we included randomised controlled trials and other primary studies. The risk of bias was judged using design-specific tools. Evidence was synthesised narratively, and a process of considered judgement was used to judge certainty in the evidence as high, moderate, low, very low or insufficient evidence. Economic synthesis: Included studies (any design, English-language) detailed intervention-related costs. Studies were categorised as cost-consequence, cost-effectiveness, cost-utility or cost-benefit, and reporting quality evaluated using the consensus health economic criteria checklist. Systematic review of implementation factors: Included studies reported data relating to implementation barriers or facilitators. Using a best-fit framework synthesis approach, factors were synthesised around the consolidated framework for implementation research domains.

RESULTS: Stakeholders prioritised outcomes, developed a model which informed evidence synthesis and identified evidence gaps.

SCOPING REVIEW: 651 studies, including 190 randomised controlled trials and 236 primary studies, conservatively reported 48 interventions/intervention combinations.

EFFECTIVENESS SYSTEMATIC REVIEWS: studies explored service delivery models ( n  = 15); interventions delivered by families/carers ( n  = 32), wider children's workforce ( n  = 21), continence teams ( n  = 31) and specialist consultant-led teams ( n  = 42); complementary therapies ( n  = 15); and psychosocial interventions ( n  = 4). One intervention (probiotics) had moderate-quality evidence; all others had low to very-low-quality evidence. Thirty-one studies reported evidence relating to cost or resource use; data were insufficient to support generalisable conclusions. One hundred and six studies described implementation barriers and facilitators.

CONCLUSIONS: Management of childhood chronic functional constipation is complex. The available evidence remains limited, with small, poorly conducted and reported studies. Many evidence gaps were identified. Treatment recommendations within current clinical guidelines remain largely unchanged, but there is a need for research to move away from considering effectiveness of single interventions. Clinical care and future studies must consider the individual characteristics of children.

STUDY REGISTRATION: This study is registered as PROSPERO CRD42019159008.

FUNDING: This award was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme (NIHR award ref: 128470) and is published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 28, No. 5. See the NIHR Funding and Awards website for further award information.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages266
JournalHealth Technology Assessment
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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