Pediatric GI Disorders

A digestive disorder is a health problem of the gastrointestinal system. These disorders can get in the way of day-to-day functioning and can affect child development. Functional gastrointestinal disorders are common in children and adolescents with complaints of abdominal pain. Our brains and our GI tracts are closely connected (the “mind-body connection”).

Functional GI conditions are due to a combination of extra sensitivity of the GI tract, with changes in the motility or movement of the digestive system. Our stomachs and intestines are moving food all the time, and some people feel this more intensely than other people. It’s as if the “volume” has been turned up from their GI tract. When their brains receive these sensations, its reaction can change the motion of the GI tract.

These conditions are common, sometimes run in families, and are usually found in individuals who are otherwise healthy. In children, that means they are growing well, have normal lab and x-ray results, and don’t have “alarm symptoms” like blood in the stool, weight loss or fevers.

The most common pediatric functional GI condition is functional abdominal pain. Children with this disorder usually experience recurrent pain in the middle of the abdomen. The pain may be severe, and commonly results in the child missing school and other activities.  After taking a detailed history and performing a physical exam to see if the picture fits with functional abdominal pain and does not point in another direction, the doctor may recommend screening tests. Depending on the situation, these may include basic tests on blood, urine and stool, and imaging of the abdomen (e.g. ultrasound or x-rays).