An open sore, or lesion, found on the skin or mucous membrane inside the body is referred to as an ulcer. It is an open painful wound. An ulcer in the lining of the stomach or duodenum, where hydrochloric acid and pepsin are present, is called peptic ulcer. When the peptic ulcer develops in the stomach, it is particularly known as stomach ulcer or gastric ulcer. Though it is usually adults who develop stomach ulcers, children can also get affected by it. Initially, the symptoms of this condition may indicate some other digestive problems.
- Acid and Pepsin: Weakened stomach cannot defend itself against the powerful digestive fluids, hydrochloric acid and pepsin, and this leads to the formation of ulcer.
- Stress: Studies show that the affected kids are often under emotional stress. Excessive stress increases the pain. Physical stress may also lead to this condition.
- Caffeine: Caffeine triggers acid secretion in the stomach, which in turn can aggravate the pain of an existing ulcer. But, excessive secretion of stomach acid cannot be attributed solely to caffeine.
- Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium make the stomach vulnerable to the harmful effects of acid and pepsin. These drugs are present in many over-the-counter medications used to treat fever, headaches, and minor health problems and pains.
- Smoking: Some children and teenagers smoke, with or without the permission of their parents. Along with increasing the chances of getting an ulcer, smoking slows down the healing process of existing ulcers, and thus smoking can contribute to ulcer recurrence.
- H. Pylori: Researches show that 80% of gastric ulcers and 90% of duodenal ulcers develop as a result of infection due a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). H. pylori weakens the stomach’s protective mucus, which is then easily damaged due to the effects of acid and pepsin. H. pylori also forces the stomach lining to produce more acid. Therefore H. pylori is considered as the primary cause of this condition in kids.
It is true that ulcers do not always exhibit symptoms. One of the leading symptoms is gnawing or burning pain in the abdomen between the breastbone and the navel. The child may often complain about the pain between meals or early in the morning. Abdominal pain may last from a few minutes to a few hours. Following are some common symptoms observed in children:
- Stomach ache with a burning sensation
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Blood in vomit or stools
- Discomfort after eating
- Chest pain
- Feeling tired, weakness
Parents need to consult their child’s physician for a correct diagnosis if they notice any of the aforementioned symptoms. Without prompt treatment, the affected kids may experience serious complications like bleeding, hole in the stomach wall, etc., leading to serious health problems, narrowing or closing of the intestinal opening which may prevent the food from leaving the stomach, etc. The treatment protocols may be different for different types of ulcers, but correct diagnosis of the disease and H. pylori is essential before starting the treatment. For instance, treatment for an NSAID-induced ulcer will be quite different from the treatment for a child diagnosed with an ulcer caused by the bacterium, H. pylori.
In the past, physicians used to recommend a bland diet for patients, and used to advise them to avoid spicy, fatty, or acidic foods. But, studies have shown that a bland diet cannot effectively treat or avoid this condition. In fact, no particular diet is helpful for most ulcer patients. Therefore, parents should be extra careful about their child’s eating as well as other habits. The symptoms in kids should never be neglected. If parents have any doubts, they should consult their physicians. If it is noticed that certain foods cause irritation, parents should discuss the problem with the child’s physician. The most important thing is that parents should carefully watch the eating habits of their kids.