It's rare, but youths can develop ulcers

Tots to Teens

January 02, 1996|By Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe | Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My 11-year-old son is always complaining his tummy hurts. Can a child his age have an ulcer?

Ulcers are much rarer in children than in adults, but they do occur. An ulcer is a deep sore in the lining (called mucosa) of the stomach or upper intestine. The most common place for an ulcer is in the duodenum, the first segment of the intestine.

Most children who get ulcers have some other chronic health problem that weakens the system or requires medicine that can promote the formation of ulcers as an unfortunate side effect.

Ulcers also are more likely to occur when a child is ill or has been severely injured.

Abdominal pain is a common complaint in childhood, and there are many possible causes. In some cases, no cause is ever discovered, and the pain eventually goes away. Among children with abdominal pain, a few will have ulcers.

Ulcers are more likely among children who have a parent or a sibling with an ulcer. Among older children and adults, males are more likely to have an ulcer than females.

Often there are clues that may make the doctor think of an ulcer, even in a child. Ulcer pain is often epigastric, that is, "upon the stomach" -- in the upper middle part of the abdomen just beneath the sternum (or breastbone).

Ulcer pain is relieved by food and tends to come back an hour or more after eating. It often awakens the person from sleeping. Because the pain is relieved by eating, a person with an ulcer may eat more, but children with ulcers often lose, rather than gain, weight. Ulcers can also cause vomiting, sometimes of blood, and can cause blood to show up in bowel movements.

A child with any or all of the symptoms of an ulcer should be evaluated by a physician. If blood is vomited or passed, that evaluation should be immediate. Ulcers in children, like ulcers in adults, can now be successfully treated.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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