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Common Digestive Problems Your Child Might Be Experiencing

Written by Dr. Jatin Bhide on Wed, 16 November 2022

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Children are the light of our lives. Their laughter is so infectious that it can melt even the toughest of us. But what happens when something muffles their laughs and smiles? A simple complaint like a stomach ache can be a big deal to the little ones. Most of the time these are not serious. However, frequent stomach aches can be a sign of a bigger problem. Here are some facts about digestive problems commonly experienced by children and how to deal with them.

Signs of digestive issues to look out for

Different digestive problems may present themselves differently. It can be difficult to understand if something is wrong with your toddler, especially if what they describe is vague.

However, there might be some common signs and symptoms you could look out for.

  • Stomach pain: Frequent stomach aches can be a sign of something serious. Pay special attention to where the child is pointing at. Stomach pain towards the lower right may indicate appendicitis which may require immediate medical attention.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Significant vomiting or even finding blood in the vomit can be a sign of a serious problem
  • Weight loss: If you notice sudden weight loss or weight gain in your child, there is a chance your child might have issues digesting food properly.
  • Fever: Frequent fever and vomiting can be a sign of some foreign entity in the gut, like a parasite.
  • Belly bloating: It can occur in children due to foods like high sugar, chocolate, packaged foods, etc

Digestive problems are commonly seen in children

Digestive disorders can take a toll on the child's overall development and need to be addressed in time. Some common problems affecting children include:

 

1. Diarrhea

Diarrhea implies stools that are loose and watery. Your child might need to use the washroom more often. It may go away in 1-2 days. This kind of diarrhea may be caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Diarrhea that lasts for weeks may be a sign of a more serious problem like IBD or parasites which need to be checked.

2. Food Allergies

A food allergy is when your child's body has a bad immune reaction to a certain food. Common foods that may cause food allergies include milk, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish, etc. If an allergic reaction is noted, it must be addressed as soon as possible. There is a good chance that Some children may outgrow their allergies while others may have these allergies lifelong.

3. Congenital bowel or liver issues

Some children can have liver disease from birth. This can cause various issues with the storage and secretion of bile that can lead to liver damage. Bile helps in the digestion of fats. When liver function is impaired it leads to digestion-related problems in children. This can lead to jaundice, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, not being able to sustain a healthy weight, and so on. Liver disorders can be treated on early diagnosis and the digestive problems will eventually disappear.

4. Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance is when the body can't easily break down or digest lactose. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and milk products. It is due to the inability of the intestines to produce enough lactase enzymes to digest the sugar lactose. If your child is lactose intolerant, he or she may have unpleasant symptoms after eating or drinking milk or having any milk products like cheese, curd, buttermilk, ice cream, etc. The child will not be able to digest these products due to them being lactose intolerant. These symptoms of indigestion include vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, and gas.

5. Parasitic infections

Intestinal parasites are common in children. They might spread via contaminated water, food, waste, soil, and blood. Parasites can also be spread by insects. On the onset of a parasitic infection, the child might experience watery stools, vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, bloating, and weight loss. If these symptoms arise, it's best to go to a doctor and get the child evaluated for any parasites.

6. Celiac Disease

Children with celiac disease can not tolerate gluten and have a serious immune reaction when they eat gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. This disorder can damage the small intestine and keep your child's body from absorbing nutrients in their food. This can lead to nutrition deficiencies and constant stomach upset. A gluten-free diet is the best way to deal with celiac disease.

7. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBD may occur in older children or even teens. IBDs include two main disorders: Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Blood in the stools and severe belly pain are some common symptoms seen in IBDs. IBDs can also slow your child's growth or delay puberty. Symptoms such as constant belly ache, blood or mucus in stools, excess gas, bloating need to be looked at as soon as possible.

What does picky eating have to do with digestive problems?

Picky eating isn't just a frustrating part of the toddler years. It may be a sign of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. Its red flags include low interest in food, fears of choking or vomiting, feeling full around mealtimes, and reluctance to eat with other people in social settings.

Picky eating and constipation can form a vicious cycle in toddlers. Functional constipation can lead to unhealthy eating behavior in children and children who were fussy eaters could be at a higher risk of developing constipation.
Picky eating can also be an early sign of eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. These disorders can also occur in children as young as 5 years old.

Beware of these foods

Children are innocent and don't understand what is best for them. As guardians and adults, we must watch what they eat. Consuming these foods Proportionately is acceptable but binge eating unhealthy foods might pose a threat to the health of our children.

  • Watch that sugar: Sugar is a major troublemaker when it comes to the digestive health of kids. White sugar is known to destroy good gut bacteria. Sugar is known to be addictive which increases cravings in children. These cravings further increase sugar consumption, damage microbial flora, and cause other problems such as cavities, bad breath, and constipation. It is best to watch out for plain sugar and hidden sugar in our child's food and restrict it for their good.
  • Keep an eye on salt: Salt intake in children is another growing concern. Children love to snack on salty chips and seasoned snacks which make them and their gut dehydrated. Excessive salt also disrupts gut microbiota and causes constipation. It is also linked to hypertension, obesity, and peptic ulcers. It is a necessity to watch your child's salt intake and hook them on some healthy snacks instead of salt-laden ones.
  • Avoid those packaged foods: We're guilty of eating packaged instant foods which require a minimum time to cook but are terrible for our health. When kids get habitual to eating instant foods like ramen, frozen meats, instant pizzas, etc they get hooked on excessive calories and preservatives that are present in these foods. It must be a priority to keep your kids away from these unhealthy foods.

It is extremely important to prioritize your child's digestive health, as gut health is linked to the overall well-being of a person. Making sure your child drinks enough water can do wonders for your child and their gut. Fresh fruits and vegetables along with good protein sources like lean meat, eggs, tofu, soy, and legumes are essential for a child's complete nutrition. Making sure your child does not lack any vitamins and minerals is important. If they do, consulting a physician and starting supplements will benefit their overall health.

While most kids eventually settle into predictable eating patterns and most childhood stomach aches will go as quickly as they come, some digestive problems in children can be a sign of something more serious. Be on the lookout for these signs and contact your pediatrician at the earliest. Your little miracle may not always be open about his/her problems. But as their guardians, we must learn to identify and eliminate the problems as soon as possible.

Keep reading our blogs for credible information about a range of health conditions and wellbeing.

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Dr. Jatin Bhide

Dr Jatin Bhide is an Ayurvedic doctor with over 16 years of enriching experience in Marketing and Strategy across OTC/FMHG, herbal medicine and Nutraceuticals (Europe) industries. He did his Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS) from Mumbai University, before moving on to do a Post Graduate Diploma in Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare Management.

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  1. Common Children's Digestive Problems Available at https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=common-childrens-digestive-problems-90-P01984 
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