Overview of common children’s digestive disorders
Digestive disorders can disrupt a child’s growth and development and make life uncomfortable for you and your baby. How can you tell the difference between an upset stomach and an upset stomach? By identifying the symptoms of these most common digestive disorders in children, you can help your child find effective treatment and enjoy safe and healthy food.
GERD in children
GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a chronic (chronic) digestive disorder. This occurs when stomach contents back up (reflux) into the food (esophagus). It is one of the types of common digestive disorders in children.
GERD is a more serious and chronic form of gastroesophageal reflux (GER).
GER is common in children younger than 2 years old. Most babies spit up a few times a day for the first 3 months. GER does not cause any problems in children. In most cases, children outgrow it between 12 and 14 months.
It is also common for children and youth ages 2 to 19 to have GER from time to time. This does not always mean they have GERD.
Each child can have different symptoms. There are common symptoms of GERD:
- Burping or belching
- Not eating
- Having stomach pain
- Being fussy around mealtimes
- Vomiting often
- Having hiccups
- Coughing often
- Having coughing fits at night
Other symptoms may include:
- Getting colds often
- Getting ear infections often
- Having a rattling in the chest
- Having a sore throat in the morning
- Having a sour taste in the mouth
- Having bad breath
- Loss or decay of tooth enamel
The symptoms of GERD may resemble other health problems. Make your child sees their healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
If your child suffers from gastroesophageal reflux disease, your doctor may recommend various acid reflux treatments for children, options based on the severity and symptoms of your child’s condition. Here are some treatment options available to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease in children:
- Your doctor may prescribe antacids to prevent acid formation.
- Your doctor may prescribe proton pump inhibitors such as Prevacid and Nexium.
- Your doctor may prescribe histamine-2 blockers, which reduce acid formation.
In addition to the above medications, your doctor may recommend the following diet and lifestyle changes for your child to reduce GERD symptoms:
- Avoiding fatty, starchy, or fried food items.
- Avoiding acidic fruits and vegetables, carbonated beverages, and other such food items that irritate the tummy.
- Eating smaller and frequent meals throughout the day.
- Losing weight if your child is obese.
- Keeping the head in a more leading position or advanced state while lying down and sleeping.
- Avoiding tight and uncomfortable clothes.
After the introduction of wheat or other gluten-containing foods into the diet, celiac disease usually develops after 6-9 months of age. Some children don’t know why they get sick in childhood, and others only get sick years later. It is important to test your baby at the first signs, or if celiac disease is running in your family. First-degree relatives (parents, siblings, children) have a 1 in 10 chance of developing celiac disease.
Symptoms of celiac disease vary from person to person and can start at any age. Irritation is one of the most common symptoms in children, making it difficult to diagnose celiac disease in children.
Celiac disease symptoms in children include:
- Decreased appetite
- Failure to thrive/delayed growth or puberty
- Swollen belly
Other symptoms can include:
- Bloating and gas
- Chronic diarrhea or constipation
- Damaged or discolored tooth enamel
- Itchy skin rash (known as dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Poor weight gain
The only treatment available for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet for life. It is important to limit cross-contamination as gluten-containing parts can also cause intestinal inflammation and symptoms. Additionally, gluten can be found in some medications and some non-food items like shampoo and makeup, but these are not harmful unless ingested. Talking to an experienced dietitian can help parents and children make the necessary adjustments to lead a gluten-free lifestyle. Without treatment, children with celiac disease can develop anemia, osteoporosis, and other problems.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
All children suffer from severe stomach pain. But when a child’s digestive problems increase, such as a drastic change in bowel habits, extreme abdominal pain, and lack of energy, something more serious can happen.
Inflammatory bowel disease is caused by two chronic digestive conditions, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Both cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
The symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) depend on the particular child, include:
- Diarrhea, especially if bloody
- Visible blood in the stools or black, tar-like stools
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Rectal bleeding
- Loss of body fluids and nutrients
- Anemia caused by severe bleeding
- Unexplained fevers
Sometimes children also experience:
- Joint pain
- Inflammation of the eyes
- Liver disorders
- Kidney stones
- Mouth ulcers
Treating IBD is complex and can be different for each child. The main goals of medical treatment are symptom relief, prevention of inflammation, and mucosal healing (bowel healing) and relief. Together, the ultimate goal is for the child to live as normal a life as possible and achieve their personal goals. To help guide the healing process, we can perform many different tests, pictures, and procedures that paint a picture of what is happening inside the body.
Drug treatment is a therapeutic option. There are no “one area outfits all” treatment for IBD. Children respond to drugs in different servings or sometimes a combination of drugs. Children who need intravenous infusion treatments can be found at our art infusion center.
Lactose intolerance is a disease produced by a lack of an enzyme called lactase. Insufficient this enzyme makes the body unable to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. Lactase deficiency causes uncomfortable symptoms in some people and these people say they are lactose intolerant.
These can include general symptoms that begin 30 minutes to two hours after ingesting foods or beverages that contain lactose:
- Abdominal pain
- Although uncommon, constipation can also be a symptom
The severity of symptoms varies depending on the amount of lactose consumed and how much each person can tolerate. Always see your child’s primary care physician for a diagnosis, as the symptoms of lactose intolerance can be similar to other conditions or medical problems.
Treatment depends on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It also depends on the severity of the situation.
There is no prescription drug that stops the flow of emotions, although its effects can be reduced. You can control your child’s symptoms with a diet that limits lactose. Your child may not stop eating all foods with lactose. Your child’s healthcare provider may suggest that they take lactase enzymes. They are sold without a prescription.
Here are some suggestions for handling lactose in your child’s diet:
- Start slowly. After a week of limiting lactose foods, try adding small amounts of milk or dairy products to your baby’s diet. See if your child has any symptoms. See what foods your child can handle and what foods to avoid.
- Have milk and milk products with other foods. Your child may have fewer symptoms if they eat milk or milk products with meals. Try to get your child to eat cheese with crackers. Or let your baby drink whole milk.
- Prefer dairy goods with naturally lower levels of lactose. These include hard cheese and yogurt.
- Watch for lactose-free and lactose-reduced milk and milk goods. These can be found in most food stores. They are similar to milk and normal dairy products. But a lactase enzyme was added to them.
- Ask about lactase products. Ask your child’s healthcare provider if you should take a lactase pill or lactase drops when dairy products are available.
Eosinophilic esophagitis is an allergic condition that causes inflammation and damage to the esophagus, which connects the muscular tube to the mouth and stomach. It is usually caused by a food allergy and affects your child’s ability to eat, both physically (the inflammation makes it difficult to digest esophageal food) and psychologically (the child may be associated with discomfort when eating).
These are the symptoms of eosinophilic esophagitis:
- Problems swallowing or trouble eating
- Stomach pain
- Weight loss
There is no cure for eosinophilic esophagitis. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and prevent further damage. For children, treatment can also help improve growth.
Ineffective medicine is a form of treatment. Steroids reduce inflammation and the number of eosinophils. Acid suppressants, such as proton pump inhibitors, can reduce reflux-like symptoms.
You will also need to make changes to your diet. Your doctor can make recommendations based on the results of your allergy test. You can eliminate foods that often cause allergies from your diet. These include peanuts, shellfish, milk, eggs, wheat, and soybeans.
People with EE may also have GERD and require additional treatment.