Indigestion In Children - Symptoms And Remedies

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Children are susceptible to illnesses even after you take utmost care with their diet, and hygiene. The fact is that you have complete control over them only until their baby days. Once they begin to go to school or play out, they are exposed to external elements that will have a significant impact on their health and well being. Among the many common health concerns is indigestion or stomach-upset.

Often characterized by a burning sensation in the back of the throat, coupled with uneasiness in the chest and stomach, indigestion can be quite annoying and debilitating for the kids. Indigestion in children happens when they eat a lot of food, too quickly or eat food that doesn’t suit their bodies. Seeing kids suffer is perhaps the most painful experience for parents. Instead of feeling helpless, it is good to know the facts about indigestion, and deal with the problem head-on. Read below to know more.

Indigestion/Dyspepsia In Children:

Indigestion is associated with pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen (dyspepsia) or burning around the chest bone (heartburn).

Typically, both dyspepsia and heartburn occur together in the case of indigestion. The condition occurs with bloating, burning sensation, constant burping, and nausea. In most instances, indigestion is a post-meal syndrome that occurs after you have your meals and is usually mild and minor that goes away on its own without the need for any medical intervention [1].

Indigestion happens when the stomach acids play havoc with the digestive system and the internal organs, particularly the esophagus. As mentioned above, most cases of indigestion are not serious, and the condition may go away in a few hours. However, if it is recurring then you may need to identify the real cause and take some preventive measures.

[ Read: Stomach Pain In Children ]

Causes Of Indigestion In Children:

The fundamental cause of indigestion is the stomach acids coming breaking down the protective lining of the digestive system (the mucosa), leading to pain, irritation, and inflammation. All this put together causes discomfort, though for a temporary period. In a majority of children, there isn’t even inflammation but just increased sensitivity of mucosa. If that’s the case, indigestion will last just a few hours. Understanding the causes behind the reaction of stomach acids to mucosa will help in dealing with the condition. Here are some causes of indigestion:

1. Use Of Certain Medications:

Indigestion can occur due to the use of certain medicines. In fact, when you visit your child’s doctor with a particular condition, the medication he prescribes may potentially cause heartburn. The physician may not alert you on this side effect.

This usually occurs with medicines that contain elements such as nitrate, which help dilate blood vessels. Nitrates relax the esophageal sphincter, which the muscle-ring between the esophagus and the stomach. This relaxation of esophageal sphincter causes the stomach acids to leak and irritate the mucosa lining of the digestive system.

There are other medicines such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can cause heartburn leading to indigestion. These medications affect the normal functioning of the digestive tract, and cause the stomach acids to flare up. This is the reason doctors ask you if the child is prone to stomach related problems like ulcers or frequent indigestion, before prescribing NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen.

To be sure that medications don’t aggravate your child’s health condition, you should check with your pediatrician before taking any medicines, even if they are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

2. Obesity:

Obesity is a common problem that grips adults and children alike. It is our modern lifestyle and eating habits that are to blame. Nevertheless, the fact is that obesity is also a major cause of frequent indigestion.

When your child is obese, there is already an increased pressure inside his abdomen. This increased pressure will immediately lead to acid reflux in the esophagus after a good meal.

3. Stress And Anxiety:

Stress is everywhere and is encountered even by kids. The immediate effect of increased stress is incorrect eating habits, leading to indigestion. It is not uncommon for kids to eat more when they are under stress.

[ Read: Acid Reflux In Children ]

4. Hiatus Hernia:

A hernia is a condition wherein an internal part of the body, such as an organ, pushes into a surrounding weak muscle tissue. Hiatus hernia occurs when a part of the stomach pushes up into the diaphragm. This will temporarily block the esophagus, leading to acid reflux and ultimately to indigestion.

5. Helicobacter Pylori Infection:

Another common cause of frequent indigestion, the Helicobacter infection, may even lead to stomach ulcers and cancer. Usually, the infection has no other symptom than frequent bouts of indigestion. In this case, your little one will need medication to get rid of the bug causing the infection. So if your child is experiencing very frequent episodes of indigestion, it might make sense to get him checked for any serious infection.

6. Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD):

Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) also causes frequent indigestion. In this condition, your child experiences repeated irritation and inflammation of the esophagus due to reflux of the stomach acids. GERD requires medical intervention.

7. Stomach Ulcer Or Stomach Cancer:

A stomach ulcer is similar to an open sore that develops on the inner wall of your kid’s stomach or small intestine. People with stomach ulcers have indigestion as a common symptom. In rare cases, frequent indigestion can also indicate a severe and life-threatening condition, stomach cancer.

These need a proper diagnosis to offer the right treatment for the child. If left untreated, stomach related infections may lead to significant health concerns. However, if indigestion is a regular one that is not caused due to any of the above-listed reasons, you may breathe a sigh of relief.

Symptoms Of Indigestion In Children:

The most evident indigestion symptoms in children is discomfort in the upper abdomen. In severe cases, the child may experience debilitating pain that hinders his normal, everyday functioning.

The point to take note of here is that most of the symptoms occur immediately after meals. However, there can be times when there is a time lag between eating or drinking and experiencing the symptoms of indigestion. While heartburn is inevitable in most cases of indigestion, the other symptoms that your child may have are:

  • Feeling bloated (an uncomfortable feeling of fullness in the abdomen)
  • Frequent belching or passing of wind (flatulence)
  • Increased acid reflux which causes your child to bring out food or fluid from the stomach back into his mouth
  • Extreme nausea
  • Frequent vomiting

[ Read: Vomiting In Kids ]

In most cases, indigestion is very mild, occurring only once in a while or when your child has had all the wrong kinds of food (read junk and fatty food). Your child may not need any medical intervention in this case. But if your child is experiencing indigestion after almost every meal then probably it is time for you to consult a doctor.

Here are some red signals that you should not ignore but head to the pediatrician right away:

  • If your child is losing weight or if there is no appetite for more than a day.
  • If the child indicates difficulty in swallowing food.
  • If your child feels short of breath or is sweating for no reason.
  • If there is persistent vomiting.
  • If the child has anemia or iron deficiency.
  • If the child has had any other stomach related health issues in the past such as a lump or an ulcer.
  • If you see blood in the vomitus or stool of the child.

Treatment Of Indigestion In Children:

Your pediatrician may ask for stomach X-ray or other tests to identify the real cause of your child’s condition. If the doctor determines that certain food is the cause of the problem, you have to make some changes in your child’s diet.

Indigestion is not always a serious issue that will require a formal treatment by a medical practitioner, but if your child is extremely uncomfortable and the pain is unbearable, then you may want to investigate it further.

When you visit the pediatrician, he may typically ask for the following information to diagnose if the indigestion that your child is complaining of is just a regular case or due to an underlying health condition:

  • The doctor will ask you the symptoms that your child is experiencing. Be sure to tell him in detail.
  • Whether your little one is taking any medication – prescribed or otherwise.
  • Details about your child’s lifestyle as well as eating habits.

As part of diagnosis, the doctor may gently press different areas of your child’s stomach to understand the exact area of pain. Depending upon this diagnosis, he may prescribe a course of treatment or ask for further investigations in the form of X-ray and abdomen scans.

The doctor may advise a stool examination or a urine test when he suspects an infection, especially H. Pylori infection.

In rare cases, the doctor may suggest endoscopy that allows him to carefully check and examine your child’s digestive tract from the inside. One thing to take note of here is that abdominal ultrasonography is not very effective in children.

  • If the doctor is convinced that indigestion is not because of any underlying health condition, you may be advised diet and lifestyle changes for your child.
  • If indigestion is an occasional issue, the doctor may suggest some healthy diet changes.
  • If indigestion is more common at night or before bedtime, make sure your child avoids eating at least three to four before going to bed. Some kids have a habit of having milk just before bedtime, and this may be one of the causes of indigestion.
  • Stress and anxiety in kids should also be dealt with in a healthy manner by inculcating optimism in your child and creating a happy environment at home.

For immediate indigestion relief, your child may be prescribed some antacids. When you are purchasing these antacids from your local chemist, do mention it to him that you want them for a child. The pediatric versions are milder than those for adults.

Prevention Of Indigestion In Children:

Some kids are more prone to stomach problems than others. Some children eat just about anything and never experience indigestion while there can be some kids digestive system reacts the moment they eat anything out of the regular. For kids who have a sensitive digestive system, it is good to avoid fatty, greasy foods. Here are some basic tips to prevent common indigestion in children:

  • Avoid foods that contain high quantities of oil.
  • Avoid chocolate.
  • Inculcate the habit of eating slowly.
  • Look for ways to keep your child happy.
  • Don’t let your child run or take up physical activity immediately after a huge meal.

Home Remedies For Indigestion In Kids:

There might not always be a need for medicine to treat indigestion in kids. You may try some home remedies that are effective and do not cause any side effects. However, not every home remedy is suitable for children. So, exercise caution and check what suits him and what does not. Here are some home remedies that might suit your child:

  • Promote the habit of drinking water regularly in your kids. Water is helpful in reducing the impact of acid reflux. A teaspoon of baking soda mixed in eight ounces of water is also effective.
  • Ginger is another home remedy for indigestion. Scientific studies show that ginger is useful in treating cases of dyspepsia [2]. A combination of lemon juice with honey and ginger is very effective for kids who are prone to frequent indigestion.
  • Milk provides relief from indigestion and related heartburn. [3]
  • Chewing mint leaves is effective for treating abdominal pain, heart burn and irritable bowel movements.
  • Fruits are a wonderful source of fiber. Fiber helps in digestion and fruits like banana act like a laxative that is beneficial for easy digestion.
  • Eating small meals every two to three hours is more effective than having a large meal at once. Also, while eating, remind your little one to chew slowly and properly.
  • Avoid carbonated drinks for your children. The gas content of the drinks tends to get trapped in the digestive tract leading to bloating.
  • Eating before bedtime should be avoided. Also, children must be encouraged to sleep early and get enough sleep. A minimum of eight hours of sleep is essential for kids of all ages.

[ Read: Irritable Bowel Syndrome In Children ]

Medicine For Indigestion In Kids:

If your child is frequently troubled with indigestion and if the home remedies do not have the desired effect, you may give your child gastric contracting medicine.

Here, domperidone maleate might be just what your child needs. This medicine helps with acid reflux when given for more than four weeks. [4].

Give your child the medicine about 15 to 30 minutes before every meal or when the symptoms of indigestion seem prominent. Antacids, such as child versions of Trums, Gaviscon or Maalox, may also prove to be effective.

Always seek doctor’s advice before starting any medication for your child. These medicines for indigestion may be very mild and easily available over the counter, but it is prudent to consult your pediatrician before administering any medicine to your child.

Home Care For Your Child:

Indigestion is associated with pain in the upper belly, however, sometimes the child may find it difficult to pinpoint the exact area of pain. Also, there may be times when the exact cause of indigestion cannot be determined. You may have tried all possible home remedies and your child may get some temporary relief. But it is important that he receives proper after-care. Here are some basic steps that you can follow:

  • Avoid dressing up your child in tight fitting clothes, especially he is having trouble with digestion. Clothes that are tight around his belly will only aggravate his discomfort.
  • Give your child lots of rest and keep him well-hydrated. This will keep your child relaxed and he will recover quickly.
  • Make sure that you include high-fiber fruits and vegetables regularly in your child’s diet.
  • Avoid situations at home that may cause stress to your child.

Indigestion, though common in children, should not be ignored at all times [5]. You must pay keen attention to details and observe your child on how he reacts to different foods. Make sure to visit your pediatrician immediately when you find something amiss. A healthy child is a happy child, what do you say?

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