Frequently asked questions: Digestive problems in kids

Q1. What is Lactose intolerance? How can I tell if my child is lactose intolerant?

A1. A child (or adult) is lactose intolerant, when their body cannot produce enough lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose, the primary sugar found in cow's milk and all dairy products. The undigested lactose stays in the intestine and becomes the cause of gastrointestinal problems.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance can be felt within minutes to hours after the consumption of milk or any dairy products and can range from being mild to severe depending on the amount of dairy consumed. Some of the symptoms to keep a look out for include nausea, abdominal pain, abdominal cramping, loose motions tools and gas and watery diarrhoea.

Q 2. My 8 week old breastfed baby hasn’t passed stool for 3 days. Is he constipated?

A 2.Stool patterns vary with the age and diet of the child. Infants who are breast-fed have motions which range from 7-8 loose stools a day to going almost an entire week without passing stool. Formula-fed infants on the other hand, often have pasty stools one to three times a day. As long as the stool is soft and your baby is otherwise growing well, it will not be termed as constipation in kids.

Changes in the colour of the stool turning to red, black or whiteshould be immediately reported to your doctor.

Q 3. What is constipation in kids? What are the signs to watch out for?

A 3. Constipation in kids is a fairly common occurrence. In most cases, it is not an indication of ill health and is usually nothing to be overly concerned about. This remedies itself given time and with a proper fibre rich diet.

Each child may exhibit different symptoms if s/he is constipated. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty and straining while passing stool

  • Abdominal pain and cramping

  • Feeling “full” or bloated.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Pain when passing stools with the presence of some blood

  • Stools that are hard often quite large

Q 4. What is diarrhoea in children? What are some of the safe home remedies for diarrhoea?

A 4.If your child's bowel patterns suddenly change and if s/he starts to pass loose, watery stools with more frequency then it's probably diarrhoea.Diarrhoea in a child is usually a sign of a simple infection. It should clear up quickly, but never ignore the situation. In very small children and babies diarrhoea can quickly bring on dehydration, which can be very dangerous.

Some home remedies fordiarrhea include:

1. Ginger – This is the safest and the most effective remedy for diarrhea in children. It not only provides relief, but also destroys the bacteria in the stomach which cause diarrhea.

2. Lemon Juice – This is an excellent remedy for treating diarrhea. Give it 3-4 times a day with warm water to neutralize the bacteria and reduce the acidity in the stomach.

3. Potatoes – The starch in the potatoes help in hardening of the stools.

4. Mustard Water – Mustard water has healing and anti-inflammatory properties. Give 2-3 times a day mixed with honey for relief.

5. Yoghurt – The live cultures in Yoghurt are excellent for treating diarrhea. Give your child 2-3 bowls of yoghurt to fight the bad bacteria causing the diarrhea.

Q 5. What are some of the causes of stomach pain in kids? When should I be concerned?

A 5.Almost all children have stomach pain at one time or another.  Stomach pain in kids can be anywhere in the region between the chest and groin. Majority if the time, it does not indicate a serious medical problem and can be treated by simple home remedies.

If the pain lasts longer than 24 hours, call your doctor. Do not give any pain medication without contacting your paediatrician first.Stomach pain that lasts 1 week or longer, could be a sign of something serious. Contact a doctor if:

  • Abdominal pain gets more severe and frequent, or if the child is nauseous and vomiting

  • Burning during urination accompanying the stomach pain

  • Accompanied by diarrhea

  • Vomiting for more than 12 hours

  • Fever over 100.4°F (38°C)

  • Loss of appetite for continued time

  • Unexplained weight loss

Q 6. When should I be concerned about my child vomiting or experiencing diarrhea?

A6. It's normal for babies and children to vomit occasionally. In most cases, it does not last longer a couple of days and isn't usually a sign of anything serious.The most common cause of vomiting in kids and babies isgastroenteritis. However, you should seek medical attention if your child appears dehydrated or if the vomiting continues longer than 24 hours. Watch out for dehydration the signs of which include:

  • Lack of tears even while crying

  • The inside of the mouth is dry

  • Urination less thanthrice times in 24 hours

  • Listlessness,irritability and extreme fatigue.

  • Sunken Fontanelle in infants.

Q 7. What is Irritable bowel syndrome in kids and how is it treated?

A 7. Irritable bowel syndrome is a gastrointestinal disorder in which the function of the large intestine is affected. It indicates a problem caused by changes in how the GI tract works. The most common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain or discomfort, often reported as cramping, along with diarrhea, constipation, or both. 

Though there is no real cure for Irritable bowel syndrome, symptomatic relief can be provided with combination of the following:

  • changes in the child’s diet

  • relief medications such as mint oil

  • probiotics

Q 8. What is colic and how can I tell if my baby has colicky pain?

A 8.Colic is a stomach related problem that affects a lot of babies during the first 3 to 4 months of their lives. It is defined by the combination of the rule of three which includes crying for least 3 hours/day, for more than 3 days/week and for 3 weeks or more. Some of the other symptoms of colic include:

  • Crying in babies that happens at the same time every day, usually during late evenings.

  • The crying seems to occur for no apparentreason like soiled diapers, hunger or boredom.

  • The baby pulls up his/her legs, clenches fists and moves his legs and arms more.

  • The baby closes his eyes or opens them very wide and even holds his breath briefly.

The symptoms of colic usually resolve by the time a baby is about 4 months of age but may last until the age of 6 months. 

To read more questions and answers on stomach related problems follow the link

The questions asked by the ZenParent community have been answered by Dr.Rajendra P Setty- Sr.Consultant- Gastroenterologist-Paras Bliss, Panchkula. Dr Shetty was also Former Director – Department of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Cooper Children’s Hospital - New Jersey, USA. 

For more information on the subject, follow the video link below to learn more about the Causes and treatment of diarrhea and vomiting in children.