The digestive system is how our bodies convert food into energy. It is made up of the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Physicians who treat problems in a child's digestive system, especially diseases of the liver, are called pediatric gastroenterologists.
Children are not just smaller versions of adult patients. Their digestive systems are different, and they may not be as able to describe their symptoms and concerns to a doctor. More importantly, a disease that interferes with the ability to obtain adequate nutrition can be much more serious for children, with their growing bodies, than it is for adults.
Pediatric gastroenterologists use tools such as biopsy (taking a small sample of tissue to examine under a microscope), endoscopy (examining the inside of the digestive tract using a thin, flexible tube), or colonoscopy (examining the lower intestines using a thin, flexible tube). Some of the disorders they encounter include:
Bleeding in the digestive tract
Liver disease and transplants
Hepatitis, an infection of the liver
Irritable bowel disease
Severe heartburn, called GERD
Lactose intolerance and severe food allergies
Severe, chronic, or unexplained abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea
Nutritional disorders, including failure to thrive (FTT) and malnutrition
Feeding disorders, including refusal of food, gagging, and trouble swallowing
With such a wide variety of disorders, treatments are also varied. Some include nutrition management plans, medications, or feeding tubes.
Pediatric gastroenterologists play an important role in helping kids comfortably eat and digest food so they can grow up healthy.