Blog, Other Health Conditions

Pyloric Stenosis

Pyloric Stenosis

The good news is that if you are old enough to read this article, you are too old to have pyloric stenosis!  This condition affects newborns and can be serious and lead to both long- and short-term problems.  If you had this as a baby or if your little brother or sister had it and you are curious to learn more, read on.

What is Pyloric Stenosis?

Pyloric stenosis is a fairly common digestive problem that affects infants and newborns and interferes with their ability to digest food.  While it can cause some serious problems for a baby, it is usually diagnosed pretty early in life and it is fairly easy to correct it.

What Causes this Condition?

In order to fully understand this problem, let’s start with a brief talk about your stomach.  When you swallow the food that you have eaten, the food travels down a tube called the esophagus and enters into your stomach.  However, before the food can get out of the stomach and into the small intestines, it must enter in through the pyloric sphincter, a muscle which must open in order to create a passage for the food.

If you have pyloric stenosis, however, the muscles around this sphincter are thickened and close off the passage between the stomach and small intestines. This means that the food a baby eats cannot enter into the lower parts of the digestive system.

How do You Know if You Have Pyloric Stenosis?

There are several signs which indicate that an infant might have pyloric stenosis. The most common behavior in babies who have this problem is that they will throw up food after they eat, then act hungry and want to be fed again immediately.  They can also show signs of dehydration, since they are not able to hold down water or food. If this problem is allowed to go on, babies may seem smaller than average for their age due to lack of good nutrition.

Who is at Risk for It?

While any baby can theoretically get pyloric stenosis, there are certain factors that can make it more likely. These factors include:

  • Being bottle-fed instead of breastfed
  • Being the first-born (though doctors aren’t sure why)
  • Being a boy
  • Being born prematurely

Can this Cause Complications?

If this condition is not treated, it can lead to problems in the short and long term.  If a baby throws up a lot, the stomach acids in the vomit itself can help to erode and damage the stomach and esophagus. Also, it is common for patients with this condition to be smaller than normal for their age, since the body is not getting enough nutrients in order to grow the right way.

How Does this Condition Get Diagnosed?

If the doctor suspects that a baby has pyloric stenosis, the doctor will perform a physical exam, including feeling the abdomen for a small lump which is the pyloric sphincter itself. Often, the doctor will also be able to feel the movements of digestive muscle going on in the baby’s abdomen.  It is also possible to gain more information about this problem through imaging tests like ultrasound.

How Do Doctors Treat Pyloric Stenosis?

Once a diagnosis of pyloric stenosis has been made, the only way to resolve the problem is to operate. The operation is called a pyloromyotomy.  During this procedure, the surgeon cuts part of the outside layer of the sphincter, causing it to bulge out and open up so that food can pass through to the small intestines. Often, once this takes place, children will be able to go back and eat normally again, though it might take a little while to adjust.

So, the lowdown is that while pyloric stenosis is a serious condition and can cause the baby to short- and long-term problems, the great news is that with developments in laparoscopic surgery, the problem can not only be fixed quickly but the recovery time for a baby is now much less than it was the past.

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