Hands of two boys holding a rugby ball

Constipation is common, but there are management options that can help. Here we take a look at how transanal irrigation helped one teenager manage his condition.

Rugby-playing Joe, 14, suffers from idiopathic constipation, a type of constipation where the cause is unknown. An estimated 1 in 100 children and young people suffer from the condition. Symptoms include painful bowel movements and bowel movements that are hard, or difficult to pass . Sufferers may also soil their underwear, which is something Joe is particularly familiar with, experiencing ‘accidents’ between 8 and 12 times a day.

According to Michael, Joe’s father, Joe has struggled to control his bowel movements all his life. At primary school he had to take a nappy sack in with him, along with clean underwear to change into. It wasn’t until he was eight that he was diagnosed with idiopathic constipation, but even then, the process was long and often fraught. ‘It was overwhelming,’ Michael says, particularly as the initial treatment Joe was prescribed ‘made (the condition) a lot worse.’

While Joe – an otherwise typical teenager – has a laissez-faire attitude toward it all, describing these years as “a bit of a pain,” his father is more outspoken about the anxiety and stress it had on the family. “It’s been a weight on my mind,” he says. ‘I’ve been climbing the walls.’

Joe, too, admits that his insecurities growing up often prevented him doing the things he wanted to do, such as staying over at a friends house.

“He’s growing up and getting older now,” Michael says. “There’s a lot more self-consciousness and body shaming happening. He got self-­conscious that someone might pick up on an accident he wasn’t aware of.”

Help with managing constipation

Things changed around six months ago when Joe’s doctor suggested transanal irrigation (TAI).  TAI is a simple procedure in which body temperature water is passed through a soft silicone cone or a catheter into the rectum, to assist in the safe evacuation of stool from the lower section of the bowel.  

Though Joe was already familiar with using suppositories, he hadn’t used TAI before and he initially worried it might be uncomfortable or difficult to use. “I wasn’t sure about it at first,” he says. But to his surprise, he found the system soft and comfortable. “It doesn’t hurt at all,” he says.

Now, Joe uses an irrigation system every morning before school. It takes him between ten and twenty minutes, and he passes the time watching a show on his iPad. In the evening, he takes a laxative treatment.

“A dramatic change.”

Michael remembers the day he started his new regime. ”He came home from school and there was an actual swagger in the way he walked. That sense of relief, you know?”, he says. Joe says he feels a lot more sociable now. He’s also confident enough to enjoy rugby and other contact sports without the fear of an accident.

“His sport and social life have changed dramatically,” Michael says. “It’s really made a tremendous difference. It’s improved things vastly.”

“It really has helped,” Joe agrees. “I’m not worrying about anything now. It’s great!”

This article is part of the Education Spotlight on Constipation, supported by Renew Medical. You can also read more about constipation in our information library here.

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