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Indigestion (Dyspepsia) In Children: Causes, Symptoms, And Remedies

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Indigestion, also called dyspepsia, refers to problems in digesting food. Indigestion can happen at any age, and it can be occasional or ongoing, depending on the cause. If your child has frequent indigestion, then seek medical care for early diagnosis and treatment of underlying conditions. Read this MomJunction post to know about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of indigestion in kids.

What Are The Symptoms Of Indigestion In Kids?

Indigestion itself is not a disease. In some cases, it can be a symptom of an underlying condition. Duration and the associated symptoms may vary depending on the cause.

The following signs and symptoms are common during indigestion (1):

  1. Abdominal pain or discomfort
  2. Bloating
  3. Burping (belching)
  4. Gurgling or churning stomach
  5. Acid reflux
  6. Heartburn that can be felt as a burning sensation or feeling in the chest with a sour or bitter taste in the mouth
  7. Nausea
  8. Vomiting

The intensity, duration, and type of symptoms may vary in each child. Usually, these symptoms may last for several hours after a meal.

Seek emergency care if your child has any of the following severe symptoms of dyspepsia (1):

  1. Swallowing difficulties
  2. Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  3. Hematemesis (vomiting of blood) or “coffee grounds” vomit
  4. Continuous vomiting
  5. Cold sweats
  6. Melena (black tarry stools) due to bleeding from the upper gastrointestinal tract.

Indigestion may feel like stomach aches or stomach upset. This may be similar to other difficulties of the upper abdomen. Therefore, it is suggested to seek medical care for frequent indigestion and if your child has any severe symptoms.

Causes Of Indigestion In Children

Indigestion can be caused by the intake of certain foods or due to some conditions. If there is no known cause for indigestion, then it is referred to as functional dyspepsia.

The following foods and factors may cause indigestion in kids (2):

  • Fast eating
  • Overeating or eating a large meal
  • Spicy food
  • Fiber-rich foods
  • High fat or oily foods
  • Eating late at night
  • Caffeinated or carbonated drinks
  • Chocolates
  • Not sleeping well
  • Certain medications such as antibiotics, iron supplements, aspirin, and ibuprofen can cause medication-induced dyspepsia
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Secondhand smoke

Consult a pediatrician if your child’s medications or supplements are causing indigestion. They may give alternatives or other drugs to prevent it.

The following diseases and conditions can also be a cause of severe indigestion in children (3):

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux is a condition where stomach contents regurgitate into the esophagus. This can cause heartburn and other symptoms of indigestion.
  • Gastritis: Stomach inflammation may cause indigestion.
  • Peptic ulcer: Sores or ulcers in the stomach can cause digestive problems.
  • Gastroparesis: This condition affects the motility or movement of the stomach. Motility disorders of the stomach can slow down the movement of food and often result in indigestion.
  • Celiac disease: It is also known as gluten enteropathy or celiac sprue, which is an immune disorder causing gluten sensitivity. Indigestion can be one of its symptoms (4).
  • Intestinal obstruction: Bowel obstruction may cause indigestion.
  • Stomach cancers: This is rare in children, but gastric cancers may cause.

Dyspepsia due to diseases can be frequent, and this requires medical care for treatment.

When To Call A Doctor

If your child has severe symptoms of indigestion, then you should seek immediate attention. Frequent indigestion requires prompt diagnosis and treatment. If your child has indigestion after consuming certain foods and medications, then you may mention it during the pediatric visits.

Diagnosis Of Indigestion In Children

After analyzing your child’s symptoms and physical examinations, the doctor may order the following tests for diagnosis (5):

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Stool or breath tests
  • Ultrasound
  • X-ray or CT scan
  • Upper endoscopy or esophagogastroscopy is the visualization of the upper gastrointestinal tract using a thin, flexible tube.

Laboratory analysis of blood and urine can be useful to identify infections and metabolic disorders. Confirmation of Helicobacter pylori infection can be obtained from stool or breath tests. Imaging tests help visualize the upper digestive tracts and may help diagnose ulcers, obstruction, and cancers.

How To Treat Indigestion In Children?

Treatment of indigestion can vary depending on the causing factor or disease. If the causes are dietary factors, stress, or lack of sleep, then avoiding them could prevent indigestion.

The following medications are given for indigestion in children (6):

  • Antacids neutralize stomach acid and could help relieve indigestion symptoms. Alka Seltzer and Tums are examples of antacids.
  • Histamine blockers help reduce indigestion symptoms and are available under brand names, such as Zantac and Pepcid.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) block stomach acid production. Omeprazole and Lansoprazole are examples of PPIs.
  • Antibiotic therapy is required for H.pylori infection (triple therapy) and other bacterial infections that cause indigestion.
  • Prokinetics, such as metoclopramide and domperidone, help control acid reflux to the esophagus and also facilitate faster emptying of the stomach contents. These are useful in the treatment of functional dyspepsia (7).

Antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs are required for the treatment of anxiety-related indigestion. Anxiety-related indigestion may require referral to a pediatric psychologist for psychotherapy along with medication.

Although many of these drugs are available over-the-counter, it is recommended to get a pediatrician’s prescription for the exact dosage and type of treatment, based on your child’s conditions.

Note: Pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) should not be given for indigestion. This may worsen the condition (8).

Home Remedies For Indigestion In Children

Home remedies and lifestyle modifications are useful in preventing mild indigestion. Some such remedies are (9):

  • Eating slowly and chewing thoroughly
  • Avoiding trigger foods, such as spicy or greasy foods, carbonated drinks, chocolates, processed foods, junk foods, etc.
  • Regular physical activity and healthy weight
  • Change in medications that are causing indigestion after discussion with the pediatrician.

Alternative medicines and complementary treatments such as herbal therapy and specific psychotherapies may be useful in some cases. You should discuss the effectiveness and safety of these treatment methods with your child’s doctor before trying them.

Preventing Indigestion In Children

Indigestion due to intake of certain medicines, foods, or drinks can be prevented by avoiding them. Eating several small meals a day and avoiding late-night eating can help reduce indigestion.

You may also encourage your child to have regular physical activity and choose healthy foods for better digestive health (10). Seeking medical care earlier can help prevent the worsening of the underlying cause of indigestion.

Although indigestion may not lead to severe complications, if left untreated, it may interfere with the quality of life. Severe symptoms may cause malabsorption and malnutrition in children. It can become a hindrance to a child’s day-to-day activities, such as attending school.

References:

1. Symptoms & Causes of Indigestion; The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
2. Indigestion; The United States National Library of Medicine (NLM)
3. Indigestion – causes, treatment; Southern Cross Medical Library
4. Maria Teresa Bardella, et al., Increased Prevalence of Celiac Disease in Patients With Dyspepsia; The Journal of the American Medical Association
5. Oralia V. Bazaldua and F. David Schneider, Evaluation and Management of Dyspepsia; The American Academy of Family Physicians
6. R. Christopher Harmon; Evaluation and management of dyspepsia; The United States National Library of Medicine (NLM)
7. Young Joo Yang, et al., Prokinetics for the treatment of functional dyspepsia: Bayesian network meta-analysis; The United States National Library of Medicine (NLM)
8. Indigestion (Dyspepsia); The American Academy of Family Physicians.
9. Indigestion; British international healthcare provisioning and multi-insurance group
10. Treatment of Indigestion; The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

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