“My tummy hurts” or “I have a tummy ache” are frequent complaints heard by parents.
Stomach and intestinal upset in children can be worrisome, but in the majority of cases parents can be assured their children are healthy. Mercy’s Pediatric Subspecialty Clinic has three pediatric gastroenterologists on staff to diagnosis and offer care options for pediatric digestive complaints. Dr. Daniel DiMeo talks more about what stomach issues to look for in children.
What Causes Tummy Aches?
Digestive concerns can start early. About 90 percent of infants may have some degree of gastroesophageal reflux (GER). A liquid diet, small size of infants, body position, and an immature lower esophageal sphincter muscle can cause GER.
The next most common pediatric GI problem occurs in the school aged child. At least 20 percent of these children have functional abdominal pain. This pain is due to the squeezing action of the intestines or due to hypersensitive nerves that communicate between the intestines and brain.
Children usually feel this discomfort in the center of the abdomen over the belly button. The discomfort comes and goes.
Most tummy aches are not dangerous, but parents should watch for any unusual changes such as weight loss, diarrhea, bloody stools, vomiting, fever, poor appetite, constipation, or fatigue.
Constipation is another common pediatric GI problem and is commonly caused by diet, lack of water intake, and stool withholding behavior.
The average person has at least three bowel movements each week. Children who have fewer than that can become constipated. Chronic constipation can lead to abdominal pain, especially during or shortly after meals. Constipation can also cause a fear of toilet sitting, followed by stool withholding. Many children will ignore the urge to pass a bowel movement while they are playing. A child should be encouraged to use the toilet whenever the urge arises.
This should not be confused with IBD, which is inflammatory bowel disease and will be discussed below. IBS is another functional GI disorder that commonly presents with lower abdominal cramps, change in stool consistency, urgency to pass a bowel movement, and then relief of abdominal discomfort after passing the bowel movement. These symptoms are usually present in an overall healthy person and medical testing is generally normal.
Digestive issues can become more complex, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which can occur in any age but occurs more commonly in teenagers.
IBD includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis which cause intestinal inflammation and ulcers. These disorders require lifelong therapy. Some people may require surgery. Better diagnostic testing, medical interventions, and new medications make IBD more treatable.
Patients with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis can enjoy many of the fun, everyday activities other children enjoy. Early diagnosis and standard treatment can help to achieve a more normal quality of life.
Parents should be mindful of their child’s digestive habits and share any concerns with their doctor. Communication with your physician is invaluable.
About Dr. Daniel DiMeo
Daniel DiMeo, M.D., is a board-certified pediatric gastroenterologist at Mercy Pediatric Subspecialty Clinic. He cares for all pediatric GI conditions, including: feeding disorders, liver disease, GERD, abdominal pain, constipation, pancreatitis, celiac disease, and has special interest in inflammatory bowel disease (i.e., Crohn’s and colitis). To schedule an appointment, please call (515)-643-5454.
This is the 6th in a 6-part series from Mercy Des Moines. Find the rest of the posts below: