Child Severe Digestive Disorders: An Overview

Medically Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on June 22, 2022
3 min read

“My tummy hurts” -- that’s something every parent hears. But if it seems like your child complains about stomach problems all the time, they may have a serious digestive disorder.

These conditions have different causes, but share many of the same symptoms:

If your child has these symptoms often, the first step is to see a doctor. Getting a diagnosis will help you know how to make your child feel better.

Here are some common severe digestive disorders in children.

EGIDs - the most common of them is called eosinophilic esophagitis - are disorders that result from extra white blood cells in your child’s digestive tract. This causes inflammation and swelling, which can result in pain and discomfort. They may also have trouble swallowing.

There's no cure for EGIDs, but medications like steroids can lower the number of white blood cells in their gut and ease symptoms. A class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce acid production in the stomach and have been found to be able to reduce esophageal inflammation in some patients with EoE. The doctor may suggest cutting out certain foods that could be causing allergic reactions, or other special diets. A severe case may require use of a feeding tube.

Children with celiac disease have a serious reaction when they eat gluten, a protein in wheat, barley, and rye. This disorder can damage the small intestine and keep your child's body from absorbing nutrients in their food.

Following a gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease. It will likely stop damage to the intestine and help heal damage that has already happened. 

IBD usually happens in older children or teens. It includes two major digestive disorders:

Bloody or watery poop and belly pain are common symptoms of both. IBDs can also slow your child's growth or delay puberty. Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's can lead to joint pain, irritated eyes, kidney stones, liver disease, and weak or fragile bones.

The goal of IBD treatment is to make symptoms go away for as long as possible. The doctor may prescribe diet changes and medicines. If ulcerative colitis symptoms are severe, your child may need hospital care or surgery.

This bowel obstruction happens when one part of the intestines folds in on another part. It’s most common in small children.

Intussusception causes pain, swelling, and sudden fatigue, and can even tear the intestines. It can occur anywhere in the intestine. The cause is unknown.

Treatment usually starts with using a liquid or air enema to try to push the intestine back. This doesn't require surgery and usually works. If it doesn't, your child will probably need surgery.

This medical emergency occurs when your child's intestine twists around itself, blocking the flow of waste. In some cases, the blood supply is also cut off. It will require surgery to fix, but most children have normal growth and health afterward.

With this condition, a child doesn't have enough intestine to absorb nutrients and fluids well. Some children are born with missing sections; others have had surgery to remove part of the intestine. Other causes of short bowel syndrome are:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Intussusception
  • A blocked blood vessel, which can slow blood flow to the intestine
  • Injury to the intestine
  • Cancer

Diarrhea is usually the most common symptom. Short bowel syndrome can lead to problems like malnutrition, dehydration, kidney stones, and severe diaper rash.

A change of diet and sometimes feeding by IV or tube can help treat it. Medications can ease symptoms and slow the passage of food through your child's digestive system, so nutrients are absorbed better. Sometimes surgery is required.