In simple terms, distended stomach is condition where the abdomen appears to be swollen or its size seems to get bigger. It happens when intestinal gas gets trapped inside the abdominal cavity. Many people think that only adults can have this gastrointestinal problem, but the fact is, children are equally prone to bloated stomach. It is more bothersome for them, as there is a constant sense of fullness inside the abdominal cavity, and they cannot express their discomfort. Parents are worried as the child refuses to eat anything.
Distended stomach in children is not something to worry about. At times, it can happen due to overeating. Their stomach may also get distended if they use straw for drinking, talk a lot while eating, or they try to finish off the meals in a hurry. In all such conditions, they actually swallow up a lot of air through their mouth and that triggers stomach bloating. If it happens on a regular basis, it could be a sign of some undiagnosed health problem. A few such causes along with their accompanying symptoms are discussed here:
Lactose Intolerance: Most parents think that milk, cheese, and yogurt is good for children, as they are rich in calcium, which is essential for bone health. However, dairy products are not suitable for those children who have lactose intolerance. This is one such condition where the child does not have the ability to produce lactase enzyme that digests the lactose sugar present in dairy foods. The undigested lactose is then fermented by the bacteria present in large intestine and produces a large amount of gas that causes bloating. Therefore, check out if your child gets a distended stomach soon after consuming dairy products or not.
Celiac Disease: This is another kind of food intolerance where the child is unable to digest wheat protein or gluten. As a result, the child suffers from stomach distension every time he eats bread, pasta and other such foods which contain wheat. Here, the bloated feeling is often accompanied by diarrhea, vomiting, and even skin rash.
Constipation: When children do not have regular bowel movements and are passing hard stools, then it is likely that they may have a distended abdomen. Other symptoms of constipation are abdominal pain and tightness of the belly. This is usually not a serious issue and is a temporary phase. They can get over it once their bowel movement is normalized.
Giardia: This is an intestinal parasite that attacks the digestive system of small children and their body fails to absorb fatty substances from the food. Toddlers and small children are more prone to this infection as compared to adults. It is contagious and gets transmitted from one child to another through contact. It is a water-borne parasite and can get into their body because of drinking contaminated water. This infection can be identified with symptoms, like watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and a heavily bloated stomach.
Appendicitis: Distended stomach in children can be a symptom of appendicitis. In these cases, the abdominal distension is accompanied by a stomach pain, which is mainly centered at the lower part of the right abdomen region. The child may also get fever and nausea. If at any point of time, you suspect that the symptoms are quite similar to that of appendicitis, then seek immediate medical intervention. It should not be neglected, because there is a risk of bursting of the appendix which could be a life-threatening condition.
A distended stomach after overeating will disappear on its own once the food is digested. In the meantime, you can offer the child a glass of warm water to drink. This will speed up the digestion process, and he will feel relieved soon. However, if it is a frequent occurrence or it is accompanied by severe diarrhea, fever, skin rashes, etc., then you must take the child to your pediatrician. Physical examination of the abdomen, studying of the symptoms, laboratory test of stool samples are important part of diagnosis. The treatment is then based upon the underlying cause.
The condition of lactose intolerance cannot be cured but can be managed with the help of some dietary changes. Doctors may not eliminate milk products from the child's diet completely but reduce the amount to be consumed. They may suggest use of lactose free milk and milk products, as they have lactase enzyme added to them. Use of soy milk and soy products are other alternative options in this condition. It should be accompanied by a calcium-rich diet to meet the calcium requirement of the child. Similarly, in case of celiac disease, doctors suggest avoidance of foods with gluten content in order to counter gluten intolerance. Here, wheat-based foods are substituted with gluten-free products so that the child can get adequate amount of the protein.
When the child is diagnosed with giardia infection, he is treated with anti-parasitic medicines that destroy the infection causing parasites. Depending on the severity of the infection, the medicines need to be continued for 5 - 7 days for complete elimination of the pathogens from the body. Usually, constipation in children do not require any laxatives. Including some fiber-rich foods in the daily diet and increasing water intake can cure the problem. In most cases of appendicitis, the appendix is removed by means of surgery.
If your child complains of abdominal pain along with burping and flatulence for no definite reasons, you must bring about some changes in the eating habits. Ask him to eat slowly and take time for chewing the food properly. Do not let him talk while eating. Give small meals after frequent intervals in order to reduce the chances of overeating. The child should also avoid drinking through a straw and chewing gum.