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Do children get stomach ulcers?
Sometimes. Ulcers are more common in adults, but children occasionally get them as well.
If your child has persistent abdominal pain, make an appointment with his doctor. This symptom may be a sign of an ulcer, but it may also be a sign of anything from gas to appendicitis. If the pain is severe, head for the emergency room right away.
Other signs and symptoms of ulcers include:
- Burning pain between the breastbone and belly button
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dull chest pain
- Feeding difficulties, loss of appetite, and weight loss
- Burping or hiccuping
- Blood in vomit or bowel movements
What is a stomach ulcer?
A stomach ulcer is a sore that develops in the lining of the stomach or upper small intestine. It can cause pain and – in rare circumstances – bleeding.
- Gastric ulcers occur in the stomach lining.
- Duodenal ulcers occur in the lining of the upper section of the small intestine (the duodenum).
What causes ulcers in children?
- Medications that break down the mucous barrier, which protects the stomach lining from acids. These include anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin (which should never be given to children unless prescribed by a doctor), and corticosteroids. Acetaminophen does not cause stomach ulcers.
- The stress of certain medical conditions, such as a severe bacterial infection, extensive burns, head injury, or major surgery.
- Infection by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which breaks down the mucus that protects the stomach lining. Once that happens, the stomach is vulnerable to damage by its own digestive fluids, including acid and pepsin, and sores can start to develop. (That's why both duodenal and gastric ulcers are sometimes referred to as peptic ulcers.) While H. pylori is a major cause of ulcers in adults, there's some debate about how prominent a role it plays in ulcers in children.
How is an ulcer diagnosed in a child?
Your child's doctor will ask about his symptoms. She may refer you to a gastroenterologist, who may order the following diagnostic tests:
- Upper gastrointestinal (GI) series: This involves taking X-rays of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).
- Upper endoscopy: Your child will be sedated, and the doctor will insert a small tube with a camera on the end through his mouth into his stomach and duodenum. This allows the doctor to look for ulcers and inflammation.
- pH probe: This test can be done at the same time as the endoscopy. A small wire is inserted into the lower part of the esophagus to measure the amount of acid.
- Additional tests: If the doctor thinks that your child may have H. pylori, she may do a tissue test (this can be done during the endoscopy), blood tests, a stool test, and/or a breath test. The doctor may also order imaging tests, such as X-rays, an MRI scan, or a CT scan, if your child has a complication, such as a perforation.
How are ulcers treated?
Change of medication: Treatment depends on the kind of medication:
- Prescription drug: The doctor may change your child to a different medication.
- Over-the-counter medicine: The doctor may recommend a different option.
- Medicine that your child must continue to take: The doctor may have your child also take a separate medication to treat the ulcer, such as an acid-reducing drug.
Antibiotic: If your child has the H. pylori bacteria, he'll be prescribed antibiotics. Make sure he takes the entire course.
Acid-reducing medication: The doctor may prescribe drugs to reduce acid production in the stomach. These types of medications protect the stomach's mucous barrier to prevent further damage and give the ulcer time to heal.
Surgery: Rarely is surgery – to treat a complication such as uncontrollable bleeding or a perforation – required.