Pediatric Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders

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Pediatric Gastroenterology

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When a child has a functional disorder of their gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), it means that although he/she may be experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms, these are not due to a medical/surgical disease. In other words, instead of symptoms being due to inflammation or structural disease, they arise from sensitive nerves and the way that the GI tract “feels” rather than something causing physical damage.

There are different names for various types of FGIDs, named based upon the way that the child feels. A few examples are listed below:

Symptoms

Functional symptoms can include abdominal pain, nausea, loose stools, constipation, or just about any other symptom that can arise from sensitive nerves in the gut. But symptoms that should never be assumed as functional are poor growth, vomiting blood, passing blood in stool, and fever. 

Causes

Sensitivity in the nerves within the walls of the GI tract is the leading cause. For some children, this can be triggered by emotional factors, diet changes, and there can also be some genetic predisposition to developing an FGID as well. Some children develop an FGID following an infection.

Diagnosis

Unlike diseases of the GI tract, there is no test to diagnose an FGID. It’s the absence of abnormal test results that makes the diagnosis of an FGID most likely.

Treatments

Treating an FGID consists of educating the child and family about the condition and then seeing if specific triggers (environment, diet, psychosocial) are playing a role in each individual child’s symptoms. Medications and diet can be used as well.  Since an FGID is not a disease, there may not always be a total cure, and the hope is that a child can learn to cope and deal with his/her FGID and this will lead to improvement over time.

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