When it comes to our children’s bowel health, many parents are confused or have misconceptions about what’s normal. As no two children are the same, what’s normal typically varies from child to child. To help us understand some of the more common paediatric bowel conditions, The Portland Hospital’s Gastroenterology team share their knowledge on symptoms to be aware of.
Toddlers’ diarrhoea is a common paediatric complaint that develops when undigested food particles pass right through the bowel in a short period of time (e.g. 2-3 hours after eating).
In addition to being a condition in its own right, diarrhoea can be symptomatic of a number of common paediatric bowel complaints including gastroenteritis and food allergies.
‘Anti-diarrhoea medications are rarely used to treat diarrhoea in children, and parents will instead be encouraged to manage the condition via dietary changes that are designed to slow the speed of the bowel,’ explains Dr Mike Thomson, Paediatric Gastroenterologist at The Portland Hospital. ‘However, should your child’s diarrhoea be accompanied by symptoms of poor growth, poor weight gain, tiredness, anaemia or the presence of blood or mucous in the bowel motions, be sure to speak to a gastroenterologist to rule out any more serious bowel conditions,’ Dr Thomson adds.
Coeliac disease is an inflammatory condition of the small intestine and is caused by intolerance to gluten.
‘Common in children and adults alike it is approaching affecting 1 in 100 of the general population. Coeliac disease can cause problems with growth, and affected children often, but not always, complain of recurrent abdominal discomfort,’ explains Dr Thomson.
Symptoms of coeliac disease can include diarrhoea, constipation and weight loss. Failure to gain weight, anaemia, fatigue and mouth ulcers can also be symptomatic of the disease which is primarily diagnosed by an endoscopy and managed through the introduction of a gluten-free diet. However, as Dr Thomson explains ‘it is important that you seek a diagnosis and advice from your doctor or dietician before removing gluten from your child’s diet’.
Constipation is the umbrella term for when a person is not passing stools as regularly as they should be, or passing them with difficulty or pain. Often caused by dietary factors such as a diet low in high-fibre food, it can also be caused by behavioural factors in children such as putting off going to the toilet. Rarely it is caused by a congenital absence of nerve fibres to the lower rectum and this is called Hirschsprung’s disease.
‘Constipation is very common in young children, especially babies and children undergoing potty training. It is also relatively common for older children and it is thought that up to one third of children may experience constipation during their childhood’ says Dr Thomson
Symptoms of constipation vary and include passing less than three bowel movements a week, passing small dry, hard stools and straining when passing a stool. Other symptoms can include tummy ache, loss of appetite and irritability
Treatments for the condition can vary depending on the child’s age and the exact cause of their constipation but often involves the consumption of a high-fibre diet.However, as Dr Thomson explains, ‘as every child’s medical needs differ you are best to speak to your doctor regarding the most suitable treatment or dietary change needed to relieve your child's symptoms’
Irritable bowel syndrome
A common condition of the digestive system in adults, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is not commonly diagnosed in children under the age of 12. It is also often a ‘diagnosis of exclusion, i.e. when all other serious pathologies have been excluded,’ says Dr Thomson.
Symptoms can include abdominal pain, cramping, constipation, diarrhoea and bloating of the abdomen.
Treatment is primarily medication and can include anti-spasmodic medications. A gastroenterologist will also likely review the patient's diet and investigate whether any foods may be worsening their symptoms..
If you are concerned about your child’s bowel health and would like to make an appointment with The Portland Hospital’s gastroenterology specialists please contact the Children's Services Enquiry Line on 020 7390 8020 and speak to one of our advisors.