From an interview with
Dr. Chad Thornhill
McLeod Pediatric Gastroenterology
Pediatric gastroenterology focuses on the diagnosis, treatment and management of digestive, liver and nutritional disorders in children.
While there are common conditions that affect both adult and pediatric patients – Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel – there are some conditions that only pediatric gastroenterologists are trained to treat, such as infants with reflux or children with constipation.
Children are not small adults. Their bodies are constantly changing as they grow, and they are not always able to express their concerns or the symptoms. Pediatric gastroenterologists care for the entire pediatric population, from infants to teens, and are experts in developing a personalized, age-appropriate approach to the treatment and management of digestive disorders.
Pediatric gastroenterology covers a wide range of digestive disorders, each of which require unique testing and procedures as well as treatment approaches. Some of the most common conditions include GERD, inflammatory bowel disease, and celiac disease.
Reflux occurs during or after a meal when the stomach contents go back up into the esophagus, the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. For some people, reflux happens frequently and is so severe that it develops into a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. GERD occurs when reflux causes troublesome symptoms or complications such as failure to gain weight, bleeding, respiratory problems or esophagitis. You can develop GERD at any age, and it often runs in families. There are some differences between the symptoms, management, and treatment of GERD in infants and GERD in older children and teens.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in children is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the intestines that does not have an identifiable cause such as infection. Nearly 1 in 4 patients diagnosed with IBD are under 20 years old. IBD should not be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBD patients are usually sicker, with more severe symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding and weight loss. Patients can also have inflammation in other parts of their body. The two major types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which affect different parts of the child’s digestive tract. It can often be managed effectively through medication or other treatments but requires close evaluation and follow-up by a pediatric gastroenterologist.
Celiac disease in children is a serious autoimmune condition caused by a permanent intolerance for gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Consuming gluten damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing nutrients from food. This often leads to poor weight gain in children. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, irritability and slow growth. While the exact cause of celiac disease remains unknown, it does appear to be hereditary. Celiac disease is a lifelong condition, but it is very manageable. The best way to treat the condition is to stick to a gluten-free diet. It is also important to remember in addition to wheat, rye and barley, non-food items can contain gluten as well, such as shampoo, vitamins and supplements.
Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you notice any digestive or nutritional concerns so they can refer you to a pediatric gastroenterologist if needed.