Does your child suffer with a funny tummy? Some children could be constipated, not pooing for several days and when they do go it takes them a while. Other children might have diarrhoea or loose watery stools. Frequent tummy pains are often a complaint and oh, my… the wind….!! But what could all of this mean?
Get the right diagnosis
More and more of us are suffering with irritable bowel syndrome or IBS – a condition which was once only associated with middle aged women – but now we are seeing it increasingly in children and teens. IBS isn’t life threatening but the symptoms can also be the sign of something more serious so it’s important to get checked out by your GP. Conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, food allergy and coeliac disease often have funny tummy symptoms so ask for your GP to do the tests if you have any concerns.
It’s important to be eating enough gluten when the doctor does the tests. One of the tests is looking for coeliac disease – an intolerance to the protein ‘gluten’ found in wheat, rye and barley. You may have decided to cut gluten out of your child’s diet to see if this improves their symptoms, but unfortunately the tests will come back inconclusive if they aren’t eating enough. Adequate gluten is eating wheat, rye or barley for 2 meals a day for a 6 week period before the test.
It is so important to get an accurate coeliac test because if it’s positive it means a lifelong, very strict gluten free diet. This is because un-managed coeliac disease can lead to malnutrition as the body is unable to absorb important nutrients such as iron and calcium. It can effect growth and energy levels resulting in difficulty concentration at school. In later life it can lead to cancers too.
Once the more serious conditions have been ruled out, you can work with a dietitian to see if your child may have a food allergy. Only certain food allergies will show up on blood tests, non IgE allergies don’t show up at all and the only way to diagnose this is through a strict exclusion diet. In childhood it’s important to do this under the supervision of a dietitian, firstly to ensure that the right foods are restricted to the right levels, and secondly to ensure that your child is still receiving adequate nutrients for healthy growth and development.
If you think it is IBS?
Once you feel you know what’s going on, seeing a dietitian can be really helpful. A dietitian can advise you on changing your child’s diet to reduce their symptoms. For example if your child is constipated we can work with you to improve their fibre intake – choosing the right type of fibre and amount of each is really important, we can look at fluid intake – often children suffering with constipation aren’t great drinkers so creative ways of including fluids from food can be helpful. Lifestyle changes and the addition of supplements can also be useful. If your child is more prone to diarrhoea, we can look at reducing their fibre intake – again type and amount is key. In addition they may not be able to absorb all their nutrients if food is passing through them so quickly, so a dietitian can advise you on ways to ensure they’re getting enough. For those with tummy pain, wind, gas or bloating a low FODMAP diet might be helpful. FODMAPS are certain types of carbohydrate foods that ferment in the bowel and are difficult for the body to digest (the acronym stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols). This is a very strict exclusion diet and must not be attempted without the guidance of a dietitian as it can be nutritionally damaging if followed incorrectly.
1. See your GP to rule out other conditions; don’t be afraid to ask for these tests if your GP isn’t forthcoming.
2. Don’t exclude foods till your test results have come back.
3. See a specialist dietitian – ideally someone experienced in both paediatrics (children) and digestive issues.