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Signs & Symptoms of Gastroinstestinal Problems in a Toddler

by
author image Regan Hennessy
Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. She has produced content for various websites and graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts in English.
Signs & Symptoms of Gastroinstestinal Problems in a Toddler
Stomach cramps often cause fussiness and cranky behavior. Photo Credit Jaren Wicklund/iStock/Getty Images

Gastrointestinal problems in toddlers range from short-term illnesses, such as gastroenteritis and food poisoning, to food sensitivities and long-term conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. As gastrointestinal issues, these health conditions all have a common feature: They affect your child’s digestive system, which includes her stomach and intestines. They also typically share a common set of specific symptoms that parents can learn to watch for.

Bowel Habits

Sudden, gradual or severe changes in bowel habits are hallmark symptoms of gastrointestinal problems in toddlers and babies. The most obvious change that occurs is a shift in the consistency of bowel movements. The appearance of loose, watery stool or diarrhea occurs with multiple gastrointestinal problems, including both bacterial and viral gastroenteritis. Similarly, pebbly, hard bowel movements often point to constipation, another common gastrointestinal problem in toddlers. Persistent changes in the frequency and color of bowel movements may also indicate potential problems, especially when coupled with changes in the consistency of the stool.

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Stomach Problems

Stomach pain and abdominal cramping commonly develop with many pediatric gastrointestinal disorders. Depending on the cause of the symptoms, these cramps could develop alone or in conjunction with more obvious digestive symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting. Your toddler might grab at his stomach as the cramps hit, which often occur cyclically, such as right after a meal or snack. Bloating and excessive flatulence could also point to a gastrointestinal problem.

Behavioral Signs

Many toddlers can’t communicate effectively verbally, so be prepared to interpret behavioral signs that may accompany gastrointestinal problems. A toddler afflicted with a digestive problem often will refuse to eat or drink, sometimes shaking her head or crying if you ask her more than once. A normally active toddler may instead opt to sit still on a couch or the floor, sometimes holding her stomach or acting preoccupied. Others may be extremely fussy and irritable. As a rule, these changes in behavior tend to occur in conjunction with other, more obvious symptoms such as bowel movement issues or stomach pain.

Considerations

Gastrointestinal problems are quite common among toddlers, so it’s important that parents be able to recognize possible signs promptly so they can seek diagnosis and treatment. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you notice ongoing signs or symptoms of gastrointestinal issues, especially repeated or prolonged bouts of diarrhea or vomiting, which may cause potentially life-threatening dehydration. He’ll conduct a physical examination and may request additional testing or refer you to a pediatric gastroenterologist, depending on the symptoms and severity of the condition.

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References

  • “Textbook of Pediatric Emergency Medicine”; Dr. Gary Fleisher, et al.; 2010
  • “The Portable Pediatrician”; Dr. William Sears; 2011
  • “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child”; Dr. Steven Shelov; 2009
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