Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that develops in individuals genetically predisposed to the condition. The digestive disease causes damage to the small intestine, thereby interfering with the absorption of vital nutrients. Children with celiac disease cannot tolerate substances such as gluten, rye and barley. While most often found in wheat, gluten is a protein that can be found in a variety of foods as well as in vitamins, medications and lip balms.
The condition has two major components: in addition to the digestive system’s failure to absorb nutrients properly, the child’s immune system has an abnormal reaction to gluten. After consuming the protein, the immune system reacts by damaging or destroying the lining of the small intestine. Not only does this result in malnutrition, but it also prevents the child’s body from absorbing nutrients crucial for healthy growth and development. Without these important nutrients, infants may fail to thrive while children can experience delayed growth, a short physique, dental enamel defects and delayed puberty.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease in Children
Symptoms differ from one child to the next. While the disease can affect any part of the body, infants and children most commonly experience digestive symptoms, which may include
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Chronic diarrhea
- Pale, fatty and foul-smelling stools
- Weight loss and distended stomach
- Behavioral changes such as listlessness, irritability and a refusal to eat.
The Outlook for Children with Celiac Disease
While it may manifest at any age, the disease can develop in children as early as middle infancy. In children, the symptoms usually appear anywhere between one and five months after the infant as consumed foods containing gluten. For this reason, experts on infant feeding suggest that gluten-containing foods, such as cereal, should not be fed to babies during their first six months.
Diabetes is an autoimmune disease resulting from the failure of the pancreas to produce insulin properly. Individuals with diabetes have dangerously high blood sugar levels as a result of this inadequate insulin production. High blood sugar levels account for the main symptoms of the disease, such as increased thirst, increased hunger and frequent urination. Normally, the body’s immune system constitutes its primary defense against diseases; however, as with all autoimmune disorders, diabetes causes the immune system to begin attacking the body’s own organs and tissues. In children with diabetes, the pancreatic cells responsible for producing insulin are destroyed.
Type 1 diabetes is the form most commonly found in children and accounts for almost 95 percent of all cases. However, this percentage may be misleading, as childhood diabetes is not a very common disease. While the origin of diabetes is still unclear, it most likely results from a combination of environment triggers and a genetic predisposition to high blood sugar.
Symptoms of Childhood Diabetes
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Weight loss
- Stomach pains
- Behavioral problems
Treatment for Childhood Diabetes
Because childhood diabetes requires specialized care, most children are treated in a hospital setting. Insulin therapy is the most effective form of treatment for Type 1 diabetes in kids. Most children require both daily and nightly insulin injections. Young children typically start with just one injection per day, while older children have the option of forgoing injections in place of a continuous insulin pump.
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that primarily affects the lungs and digestive tract. Because of CF’s effect on the body’s respiratory system, children with this disease are prone to chronic lung infections. The organs and cavities in the human body’s organs and cavities are lined with epithelial cells. In a healthy body, the lungs and digestive organs are covered with a thin coating of fluid and mucus, meant to trap and expel any germs that enter the lungs. However, in children with CF, the diseased gene causes the body’s epithelial cells to create defective proteins called CFTR. Because of these defective proteins, the epithelial cells are unable to control the passage of chloride through the cell membranes. As a result, the mucus coating the lungs and digestive organs becomes thick and sticky, trapping germs instead of clearing them out. These trapped germs result in the repeated lung infections experienced by children with CF. This thick mucus also obstructs the pancreas, preventing the passage of vital digestive enzymes into the intestines. Without these enzymes, the body cannot break down and absorb the nutrients in food, causing children with CF to lose weight regardless of their diet.
Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis
- Frequent lung infections
- Chronic and persistent cough, sometimes producing phlegm
- Shortness of breath, wheezing
- Poor growth and weight gain
- Frequent slimy, large stools or difficulties with bowel movements
- Salty-tasting skin
Outlook for Children with Cystic Fibrosis
Thanks to advancements in both genetics and pharmacology, children with CF can live longer and more comfortable lives. Scientists have spent the past 10 years researching cystic fibrosis. Because of their work, doctors have a better understanding of the disease, allowing them develop new treatments. While children with CF were once condemned to live short lives, usually not making it past the 20 or 30-year-old mark, recent discoveries have lengthened life expectancy to 50 years. There is still hope that researchers may one day find a cure.
Lactose intolerance is a condition in which children cannot properly digest lactose. Lactose is a sugar found in dairy products such as milk, soft cheeses and ice cream. Children who suffer from lactose intolerance are unable to make enough of an enzyme known as lactase. This enzyme is normally produced by the intestines and is necessary for digestion. Without sufficient lactase, any undigested lactose remains in the intestines and results in the symptoms commonly associated with the disorder.
Because the symptoms of lactose intolerance are similar as those caused by a variety of digestive problems, diagnosing children with the condition may prove tricky. The first step in evaluating whether a child is lactose intolerant involves gradually removing dairy products from their diet for several weeks to see if their symptoms improve. The next step is to talk with the child’s pediatrician and request that they perform what is called a “lactose breath test.” During this test, a lactose solution is ingested so that the subsequent hydrogen levels in the child’s breath can be measured. As undigested lactose remains in the intestinal tract and ferments, producing hydrogen to be exhaled; thanks to this process, doctors are able to accurately test for lactose intolerance.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance in Children
Symptoms typically appear anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours after consuming foods that contain lactose. Common symptoms include
- Stomach cramps
Treatment for Lactose Intolerance
Unfortunately, there is no remedy for lactose intolerance. Instead, the condition should be controlled through strict adherence to a restricted, lactose-free diet. You can also buy over-the-counter lactase to give children prior to meals in an effort to aid their body’s digestion. While the condition is bothersome, it doesn’t have to be a life-sentence of the same boring foods. Consult a pediatrician for help, as he can offer suggestions regarding dietary changes and new foods.