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'Pediatric General Surgery' Parentelligence posts

When a belly ache or stomach pain might mean appendicitis

As a pediatric surgeon, I am often asked when to “worry” about abdominal pain. Children often report aches or pains near the belly button (umbilicus), and the question arises around when this might mean something significant such as appendicitis.

Appendicitis is a common occurrence affecting about 7% of people over their lifetime, and it begins with vague abdominal pain of the central abdomen. Once the appendix becomes obstructed and begins to suffer from lack of circulation (ischemia), the body can detect more accurately the exact source of the pain. After this localization occurs, children older than 6 or so can identify that the pain is most severe in the right lower part of the abdomen. The localization usually occurs within 24 hours of feeling unwell. The pain is typically worse with movement of the appendix during activities such as walking, coughing, and change in position. I often ask children to jump up and down (on their bed is something kids are excited to do!) and watch their face to see if they wince. Typically with appendicitis, a child will either refuse to jump or may try it once but will not continue due to the pain.

Distraction is also frequently used in children that seem to be particularly “focused” on their pain. In gently feeling the abdomen of a child with early appendicitis that is distracted, the abdomen is soft until palpating the area of the appendix. This right lower part of the abdomen is...

Hernias: why are some watched while others are repaired?

The most common thing that I see as a pediatric surgeon is a child with a lump that is thought to be a hernia. A hernia is a bulging of tissue through an opening in the muscle layers that isn’t normally present. In children, these openings are usually the result of a developmental process that just didn’t quite reach completion. Some hernias need surgery emergently, while others are observed for years with the expectation that they will close on their own.

Here are some pointers to help understand this wide range of approaches to hernias:

Location is very important in considering how aggressive to be with hernias. Belly button (umbilical) hernias are...

Constipation during infancy

As a pediatric surgeon with a special interest in intestinal issues, I am often contacted by worried parents regarding their baby's infrequent bowel movements. This can be caused by a variety of
problems such as blockages of the intestines or abnormal intestinal function (including a condition called Hirschsprung's disease); but most frequently babies are just efficiently absorbing and thus not needing to poop very often. This is especially true for breastfed babies. So, how can a parent tell the difference?

I would offer the following "red flags" as issues that may indicate a problem needing further medical evaluation:

Fixing Chest Wall Deformities: A Minimally Invasive Option

Pectus excavatum often referred to as either "sunken" or "funnel" chest is the most common congenital chest wall deformity affecting up to one in a thousand children. It results from excessive growth of the cartilage between the ribs and the breast bone (sternum) leading to a sunken (concave) appearance of the chest.

(Image source)

Although present at birth, this usually becomes much more obvious after a child undergoes a growth spurt in their early teens. Pectus excavatum can range from mild to quite severe with the moderate to severe cases involving compression of the heart and lungs. It may not cause any symptoms, however, children with pectus excavatum often report exercise intolerance (shortness of breath or tiring before peers in sports), chest pain, heart problems, and body image difficulties. The last issue deserves some attention as children often are reluctant to discuss how the appearance of their chest affects their self-esteem globally. There is a bias even within the medical community to dismiss the appearance component of pectus excavatum as merely "cosmetic", but I view the surgery to fix this congenital defect as corrective and support the idea that the impact of its appearance should be considered. I have seen patients emotionally transformed in ways that they and their families never expected.

Thanks in great part to the pioneering work of Dr. Donald Nuss (a now retired pediatric surgeon in Virginia), we have a well-proven minimally invasive option to correct pectus excavatum: the Nuss bar procedure. This involves ...

Vomiting in the newborn: when is spit-up something to worry about?

I have never met a baby that didn't on occasion spit-up. Many perfectly healthy babies can even spit-up quite a bit. Reflux is often the label given to babies who vomit, and this rarely amounts to a significant problem.

However, there are a few things that a parent should watch out for:

The most important thing is the color of what a baby is throwing up. Dark yellow and especially green vomit is never normal in a baby and demands immediate medical evaluation as this could represent a dangerous twisting of the intestines (midgut volvulus), which is linked to abnormally positioned intestines (intestinal malrotation).

Another consideration is quantity. If a baby is throwing up...

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