Stomach Ulcers in Children

Stomach ulcer in children are very rare but they do happen. Below, you will find more information on stomach ulcers in kids, including causes, symptoms, and treatment options.


Causes of Stomach Ulcers in Children

In adults, H pylori is the most common cause of stomach ulcers. However, this is very unusual in children. Children do indeed get infected with H pylori, but H pylori is often a life-long infection which only culminates in stomach ulcers in old age. It is not normal for healthy children to get an ulcer from H pylori alone.

The other major cause of stomach ulcers are NSAID drugs, which include naproxen, ibuprofen, and aspirin. In adults, NSAIDs only cause a minority of stomach ulcers, but in children NSAIDs are much more likely to cause problems. Not only are children more sensitive to the negative side effects of NSAIDs, but children also are more likely to be given NSAIDs, given that children get sick much more frequently than adults, have a low pain tolerance, and an uncanny propensity to injure themselves.

Stress, particular physical stress, can help create the conditions needed to facilitate an ulcer in kids. For example, children who have just had surgery performed are much more likely to get an ulcer, whether it be H pylori related or otherwise.


Symptoms

In children, stomach ulcer symptoms are the similar to those experienced by adults. These include:

  • Burning stomach pain
  • Stomach pain which comes and goes
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain that subsides after eating
  • Stomach pain that peaks on an empty stomach
  • Vomiting

The only way to know for sure whether or not an ulcer is present is to receive diagnostic testing.


Testing for Ulcers in Children

The most common procedure used to check for stomach ulcers in children is a barium x-ray test. A barium solution is consumed, which coats the upper digestive tract. An x-ray can then take a remarkably clear picture of the digestive tract, including the presence of ulcers.

An endoscopy can also be used, which involves navigating a flexible camera down the esophagus and into the stomach to view ulcers. This is generally done in more serious cases, when a barium test was inconclusive, or when an ulcer has been confirmed but a biopsy is needed.


Treatment for Stomach Ulcers in Kids

The cause of the ulcer dictates the treatment used. In nearly all ulcers cases, a proton-pump inhibitor or H2-blocker will be used, which reduces the production of stomach acid and promotes ulcer healing, even during continued NSAID usage (1).

If H pylori is thought to play a role, antibiotics will be used as well. This frequently includes two antibiotics and the combination of antibiotics and an acid-reducer is often referred to as triple therapy. This is more common in adults however than in children.


Warning Signs

An advanced ulcer can progress into a bleeding or even perforated ulcers. Both of these conditions require immediate treatment. Signs include:

  • Severe stomach pain
  • Blood in stool or vomit (typically black and looks like coffee grounds)


Conclusion

While stomach ulcers in children are rare, they do occur. Medical treatment is necessary for ulcer treatment; an ulcer is not a condition to be ignored.

References

1. Nema H., & Kato M. Comparative study of therapeutic effects of PPI and H2RA on ulcers during continuous aspirin therapy. 2010. World J Gastroenterol, 16(42):5342-6.

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