Throughout all stages of childhood development, various health concerns may arise. Understanding the most common causes allows parents to be informed and know when to act and see a professional for further evaluation and support. Sometimes our children experience more than just a stomach ache. There are various gastrointestinal, or GI, issues that children can face all the way into adulthood. Digestive disorders can negatively impact a child’s ability to grow and develop while also making things uncomfortable for both you and your child.
By recognizing the symptoms of the most common GI issues in children you can decipher between a regular stomach ache and a digestive problem. To get to the root cause of the pain ensures a proper and rapid treatment plan is put into place to alleviate symptoms and help your child live a healthy and happy life.
Here are the most common GI issues in children from birth to age 18:
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
There are more than 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease every year. About 10% of that total are those 18 years and younger. IBD is chronic inflammation of the digestive tract that includes symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, blood in the stool and nausea in children. The two types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both types cause inflammation in a part of the digestive tract that can often lead to painful ulcers. In both cases, IBD has flare ups that can come and go for long periods of time. This is not a disease that children can outgrow entirely, but as they grow symptoms and flare ups may be fewer and farther between- even spanning years.
Proper and prompt diagnosis is essential to get your child on track to feeling better. Blood tests, x-rays or MRIs may be ordered to find the exact location of the inflammation. Medication may be prescribed to reduce the pain and inflammation. A change in diet may also be necessary to reduce symptoms. This may include the reduction of dairy, fiber and fat intake overall. Essentially sticking to a healthy eating plan and daily exercise routine will help lower overall symptoms in most cases.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
One of the most common GI issues in infants is acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease. GERD affects ⅔ of infants between 4-6 months of age, at its peak, and slowly dissipates by 12 to 18 months. By the one year mark, about 10% of all babies are diagnosed with GERD. This condition causes stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus, causing irritation and discomfort for your baby. The most common symptoms in infants are frequently spitting up, trouble feeding and irritability, especially while feeding. Other symptoms include abnormal arching, unusual trouble sleeping, difficulty with weight gain and wet burps or hiccups. The good news? Most babies outgrow GERD completely.
Some of the best ways to alleviate GERD symptoms in babies are to:
- Avoid overfeeding. Follow your baby’s cues and stop feeding when they pull away from the breast or bottle.
- Keep your baby upright for 30-60 minutes after feeding. Avoid laying them flat as it could trigger GERD symptoms almost instantly on a full stomach.
It is best to take your baby in for evaluation to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment. In some cases, medication may be prescribed.
Lactose is a natural sugar found in cow’s milk. Because it comes from milk it is found in all common grocery store dairy staples, from ice cream treats to yogurts and cheeses, lactose can wreak havoc on your little one’s digestive system if they have an intolerance to it. When a person is lactose intolerant they lack the necessary enzyme, lactace, located in the lining of their small intestine. In order for lactose to be properly absorbed in your body, lactase must break it down into two components. When lacking lactase, the lactose cannot be absorbed by the body thus sending it into the large intestine where it is fermented by gut bacteria and turned into byproducts, like carbon dioxide and hydrogen that can have a laxative type effect on the body. There are over 3 million new cases of lactose intolerance each year.
Some of the most common symptoms of lactose intolerance in children include:
- Stomach bloating
- Skin rashes
- Loose stools, especially after eating dairy products
- Frequent diarrhea
It’s important to note that lactose intolerance symptoms can start later into childhood and progress through adulthood. If your child’s stomach discomfort comes from dairy consumption, try moving them to a dairy-free diet to see if symptoms subside. You may also consider medication that can aid as the missing enzyme. Schedule a consultation before opting into too many dietary changes.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is caused by the body’s inability to properly breakdown the consumption of gluten. When people eat food containing gluten, their body triggers an immune response that essentially attacks the small intestine. The villi, small projections that line the entirety of the small intestine, become damaged or destroyed from these attacks. Without them, the small intestine cannot properly absorb nutrients. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye products and affects 1 in 100 people around the world.
Celiac disease is hereditary and symptoms can begin at any age, even after long time consumption of gluten products. Children whose parents have Celiac disease are at higher risk. Celiac disease is not something that children can grow out of.
Symptoms of Celiac disease in children can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Unusual weight loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Delayed growth
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
More than half of children with Celiac disease do not know they have it as symptoms are often lacking. The only treatment is a fully gluten-free diet.
Whether your child is having chronic stomach aches, issues with dairy products, or complaining frequently of gas pains, it’s important to get to the bottom of the symptoms sooner than later. GI issues are common and often treatable, so don’t hesitate to seek medical advice and a treatment plan that can help your child today.