The Effect of the Flint Water Crisis Secondary to Increased Lead Levels in Drinking Water on Constipation in Children in the City of Flint, Michigan, USA.

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Introduction Constipation is a common condition in children, affecting almost one-third of the population at some point in childhood across the world. Functional constipation is the most common cause, with no clear etiology. From April 25, 2014, through October 16, 2015, the water source for the city of Flint residents was untreated Flint River water, which resulted in lead-contaminated drinking water. Lead poisoning has been associated with constipation and has multisystem sequelae, including neurological, muscular, and hematological impacts. Children may be especially vulnerable to this with their higher water intake-to-body weight ratio. There has been no previous study examining the possible relationship between the Flint water crisis and constipation in children. In our study, we aimed to see if the increased lead level in the water had any effect on constipation in children in Flint. Methods We included all children seen and diagnosed with constipation at Hurley Medical Center's Pediatric Gastrointestinal (GI) Clinic. We included only children seen in 2013 (pre-water crisis) and 2017 (post-water crisis). Children with chronic neurologic disorders, celiac disease, hypothyroidism, diabetes, Hirschsprung's disease, short bowel syndrome, and gastrointestinal surgeries were excluded. We looked at the age of presentation, associated symptoms, medications used, need for hospital admission or emergency department (ED) visits, and improvements at follow-up. Results A total of 79 patients were included in the study. There were 29 patients from 2013 and 50 patients from 2017 (post-lead exposure period). The rate of constipation referrals to the GI clinic for the Flint population of children was significantly higher in 2017 (p=0.001). The most common associated symptom was abdominal pain in both groups. Straining was more prominent in the 2017 group (60%) compared to the 2013 group (34.5%, p=0.029). There was no clinical or statistically significant difference between the groups noted in abdominal pain, blood in the stool, fecal incontinence, vomiting, history of urinary tract infection (UTI), abdominal distention, or stool impaction. Conclusions The number of patients referred to Hurley's Pediatric GI Clinic for constipation increased after the lead water crisis in Flint. Moreover, straining has significantly increased in post-lead exposure compared to pre-lead exposure. There was no clinical or statistically significant difference noted in abdominal pain, blood in the stool, fecal incontinence, vomiting, history of UTI, abdominal distention, or stool impaction between both groups. A larger study would need to be done to confirm these findings, rule out other cofactors, and look into minerals in water and their effect on intestine innervations.





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