A sore stomach and an odd bout of diarrhea are a normal part of growing up as your child’s body develops and becomes accustomed to new food groups. They may even have overindulged or need an urgent trip to the bathroom.
However, if you notice that your child is regularly saying that their tummy hurts or it is interfering with their daily life or eating habits, getting it checked out by a board-certified pediatrician will be a good idea because it could be a sign of a pediatric digestive disorder or a problem somewhere else in the body, such as the appendix.
Read on to discover five of the most common digestive disorders and what signs to look out for.
What causes pediatric digestive disorders?
There are a lot of factors that can increase the risk of your child developing digestive system issues, including:
- a family history of digestive issues
- dietary factors and allergies
- gastrointestinal infections and imbalances in gut microbiome
- stress and emotional factors
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
GERD is a common condition that affects kids of all ages. It is a condition where stomach acid frequently flows back into the esophagus during or after meals. In babies, this can happen due to the feeding frequency and positioning during feeds, resulting in spitting, coughing, or even vomiting. The babies will often grow out of this as their digestive system develops.
In older kids, GERD might be the cause if your child complains of heartburn, frequent swallowing, or regurgitation. It can be very uncomfortable.
If you notice your child regularly burping, hiccuping, gagging, and complaining of stomach pain after eating, they might have GERD. Lifestyle changes are usually the best way to minimize the symptoms.
Constipation is a common condition for kids of all ages. It involves infrequent and difficult bowel movements, which can also be painful and cause uncomfortable bloating.
Dietary issues, dehydration, lack of physical activity, functional problems in babies such as an immature digestive system, and stress often cause constipation. Older kids might even hold off on toilet trips in unfamiliar places, which can lead to constipation.
In most cases, constipation is easily treated by changing bathroom habits, diet, or the amount of water they drink daily. If the problem is ongoing, your pediatrician may recommend medicine such as stool softeners or laxatives to help your child go to the bathroom, especially if they feel pain when they go to the toilet.
Lactose intolerance is the inability to properly digest lactose, a sugar in milk and dairy products. If your child is lactose intolerant, they will probably have watery stools, gas, bloating, or a stomach ache after consuming lactose.
Treatment for lactose intolerance includes dietary modifications and eating lactase enzymes before consuming dairy products, as this will help your child’s body process the lactose properly.
Gastroenteritis, the stomach flu, is a common illness that causes tummy pain, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. While it may feel uncomfortable at the time and cause a few tears, the condition isn’t severe and passes after a few days of rest and plenty of liquids.
It is often caused by bacteria, parasites, and viruses, such as the rotavirus (which you can get vaccinated against). The most common causes are easily spread around schools and homes when kids share food, drinks, or surfaces. Kids often get sick after they touch a contaminated surface and then touch their food or mouth.
If you don’t notice any blood or mucus in your child’s stools, you can treat them at home. Ensure they get plenty of fluids, as they risk getting dehydrated. The oral electrolyte solution is a good option and should be given as often as possible. If your child is happy to eat, keep the food light and serve in small portions. Toast, crackers, plain chicken, broth, and mashed potatoes are all good.
Contact your pediatrician if you notice any blood in the stools, have a high fever, or their symptoms don’t improve after 24 hours.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a functional disorder that causes persistent stomachaches, diarrhea, or constipation. Other symptoms include gas, burping, and feeling sick, and your kid may sometimes feel like they haven’t finished when they go to the toilet. Sometimes, it may feel like the gas is stuck, which causes bloating.
These symptoms are often caused by a sensitive bowel, where simple movements of food and water can cause unpleasant symptoms. Stressful feelings around exam times or problems at school or home also worsen symptoms; in some cases, certain foods such as fatty, spicy, and sugary foods and drinks may trigger symptoms.