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Children with cerebral palsy are sometimes prone to digestive issues, including upset stomach, vomiting, bloating, and constipation. While these ailments are minor in some instances go away, other times they may indicate something more serious. Treatments vary by the issue.
Why Children With Cerebral Palsy Have Digestive Problems
Poor feeding, unusual positioning and poor mobility, muscle spasms, difficulty swallowing, and excess drooling all can contribute to digestive issues for children with cerebral palsy. Changes in breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and overall mood can occur with feedings and digestion.
These children also may be unable to digest their food correctly and absorb enough nutrients. If digestion issues become too severe, they can become life-threatening.
Symptoms of Digestion Problems
The following symptoms of digestion issues indicate that the child may need medical help as soon as possible. If you are unsure whether your child’s condition is severe or not, it’s always a good idea to consult with your pediatrician.
- Unable to feed (as babies) or refusing food
- Issues with swallowing or sucking
- Unusual weight gain or weight loss
- Unusual fatigue
- Choking and aspiration
Diseases and Disorders Caused by Digestive Problems
Children with cerebral palsy are at a heightened risk of developing certain digestive issues. The most common types of disorders and diseases include:
IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) occurs when the body’s GI Tract isn’t working properly. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), IBS is considered a disorder marked by bloating, alternating diarrhea and constipation, abdominal pain, and flatulence.
Digestive issues can lead to malnutrition and typically happens when children can’t correctly swallow foods and liquids. According to a 2008 study, malnutrition is a common secondary disorder associated with cerebral palsy.
Malnutrition is a serious issue that can lead to poor growth, muscle loss, weight problems, and impaired motor function.
Dysphagia is a term used to define difficulties with swallowing, making the body take additional time to move liquids and foods into the stomach. Since cerebral palsy impacts a child’s fine motor skills, it also affects their ability to eat and drink properly.
Gastrointestinal reflux is a digestive disease in which the stomach’s acid rises into the esophagus. When this occurs, a burning sensation usually develops in the chest, typically uncomfortable.
Children with gastrointestinal reflux may also regurgitate their foods and liquids and have a sour taste in their mouths afterward. Other symptoms may include difficulties with swallowing, coughing, and hoarseness.
Treatment for Digestive Issues
If your child shows symptoms of digestive issues, a pediatrician may make a referral to a gastroenterologist. A gastroenterologist is a professional medical specialist who focuses on digestion issues, including diseases and methods to help those who suffer from digestion problems.
Gastroenterology professionals help treat a wide range of digestive issues, including (but not limited to) irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease, ulcers, and gallbladder problems.
A gastroenterologist can help children with digestion issues by offering individualized treatment after a complete medical checkup and physical are performed. The type of treatment the child receives will depend upon which digestive problem they have.
For instance, children with constipation and other bowel issues may be placed on a special diet, as well as given probiotics and medications such as antispasmodics. In some other cases, children may be referred to specialists who can assist them in learning new methods of swallowing and drinking.
One of the easiest ways to help children with digestive issues is to eliminate foods and liquids that trigger adverse reactions. Sometimes this isn’t always easy to discern without professional help, but past studies indicate that diet changes can be highly effective in helping children with digestive problems.
A feeding tube may be recommended for severe digestive issues, especially for children who cannot eat or have difficulties swallowing. A feeding tube delivers liquid nutrients to children either through a surgical procedure that places a tube in the child’s abdominal wall or via a tube inserted into the nose and advanced to the stomach.
There are many treatment options for children with digestive issues, but it’s important to seek medical help as soon as possible. As with most disorders and diseases, the sooner treatment begins the better chances of success.
- Gastrointestinal problems. (n.d.). Stanford Children's Health - Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford.
Retrieved from: https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=gastrointestinal-problems-90-P02216
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.. (2019, November 27). Symptoms & Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Children.
Retrieved from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome-children/symptoms-causes
- Kuperminc, M.N. and Stevenson, R.D. (2008). Growth and Nutrition Disorders in Children with Cerebral Palsy. Dev. Disabil. Res. Rev. 14(2), 137-46.
Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18646022/
- Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders in Pediatric and Adolescent Patients. (2013, July 17). American College of Gastroenterology.
Retrieved from: https://gi.org/topics/functional-gastrointestinal-disorders-in-pediatric-and-adolescent-patients/