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What is Pediatric Gastroenterology?

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  • Written By: Anna B. Smith
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2016
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Pediatric gastroenterology is the study of the diseases which affect the gastrointestinal tract and liver specifically of children. The muscles of the digestive tract and waste disposal system of the human body gradually develop over time, and can experience malfunctions and minor disorders while they are still underdeveloped, as is the case in children. Reflux, indigestion, and diarrhea are common symptoms that manifest in young people who are afflicted with a more serious gastrointestinal disease. Doctors who are interested in this area of medicine may wish to intern with practicing gastroenterologists following their residency programs to learn the specific ways in which these different diseases can affect and damage the bodies of infants, toddlers, and adolescents.

Gastroesophageal reflux is one of the most common afflictions treated by pediatric gastroenterology physicians. This is the regurgitation of a portion of digesting food from the stomach. Many people normally experience this symptom to a minor degree on a daily basis, often following large and heavy meals, with no long term negative side effects. When it occurs too frequently in children, however, it can have damaging consequences. Infants and toddlers who spit up the majority of their food after every meal may suffer damage to the esophagus, fail to gain weight adequately, and can eventually have trouble breathing, if left untreated.

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Older children may be directed to visit a pediatric gastroenterology practice if their general pediatrician believes they may be experiencing lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, or excessive diarrhea. Lactose intolerance is an inability to tolerate milk in the digestive system. Irritable bowel syndrome is an irritation of the lining of the stomach and small intestine making digestion difficult and uncomfortable. Crohn's disease is a worsening of this and includes the large intestine as well, though it is very rare. These diseases tend to require an expertise beyond that of a general practitioner, and can often be treated with specialized medications and an altered diet that are more familiar to a gastroenterology specialist.

Medical students interested in studying pediatric gastroenterology can seek an internship through a current practicing clinic that focuses on treating gastrointestinal disorders in children. Many such clinics offer a mentoring program which allows students to accompany experienced doctors as they meet with patients throughout the day. These internships often lead to full time employment for participants following the completion of their medical degrees and residencies.

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