Common and Not-So-Common Causes of Toddler Gas Pain

Common and Not-So-Common Causes of Toddler Gas Pain

“My tummy hurts,” your 3-year-old complains. Next thing you know, he’s lying on the couch instead of running around the house, being his energetic self.

Severe gas pain can be a traumatic experience for toddlers and parents alike. He’s upset and scared, and you have no idea whether it’s minor or something that warrants a call to the doctor.

In some cases, stomach pain and gas may be just two symptoms among several of an ongoing health issue. Does he have a fever? Diarrhea? Is he dehydrated?

This symptom guide to common and not-so-common causes of toddler gas pain will hopefully help you distinguish a short-lived tummy virus from something that warrants a trip to the pediatrician.

Infographic - Toddlers and Sucrose Intolerance

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Vomiting + diarrhea + mild fever + gas

Gastroenteritis, often called the “stomach flu,” is one of the most common stomach ailments in children 6 to 24 months old. Often caused by the norovirus, stomach flu can last from one to three days in kids.

Action plan: Call your pediatrician for guidance. If the condition can be managed at home, you may be advised to give your toddler a teaspoonful of milk or juice, or an electrolyte-replacing fluid every few minutes for about an hour after she has stopped throwing up. If the fluid stays down and your child is willing, encourage her to eat whatever food appeals to her.

Gas pain + watery diarrhea + bloating

If your toddler repeatedly feels gassy after eating and also has watery diarrhea and bloating, it’s possible she may have Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID).

With this genetic disorder, your child lacks sucrase and isomaltase, two enzymes produced in the small intestine that are needed to digest foods containing sucrose (table sugar). Children with CSID don’t make enough of the form of these enzymes that can digest sucrose. During digestion, foods containing sucrose can’t be broken down into glucose and fructose, which are forms of sugar that are small enough to be absorbed from the small intestine. Your toddler’s body needs glucose and fructose for fuel and growth.

Consequently, undigested sucrose travels to the large intestine (colon). There, naturally present bacteria feed off the undigested sugar by a process called fermentation, which produces gas that builds up in the intestine, causing your toddler’s tummy to distend.

Action plan: If you think your toddler might have CSID, taking this quiz on your child’s behalf may help you decide if you should contact your pediatrician..

How to Help a Toddler with Gas Pain

If you think your toddler with gas pain might have CSID, you can start by not serving foods with sucrose and keeping a food journal to see if your child’s symptoms lessen. Gaining insight through a food journal is helpful to share with your child’s pediatrician at your appointment, to determine the best course of treatment.

Treating gas pain in toddlers with CSID can be tricky because many toddler-friendly foods, such as baby carrots, orange juice, bananas, and crackers contain sucrose. Even the breading on some chicken fingers contains it. Toddlers with CSID don’t tolerate these foods well.

Children never outgrow CSID, so it’s important to discuss the possibility of CSID with your child’s pediatrician. Keep in mind that CSID is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), food allergies, or “toddler’s diarrhea.” Consequently, children can unnecessarily suffer with gas pain for years.

If symptoms persist, see a pediatric gastroenterologist.

Information contained on this site is not to be used as a substitute for talking to your doctor. You should always talk to your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

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Sucrose Intolerance Is More Common Than You Think