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What is Pyloric Stenosis?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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Pyloric stenosis is a condition that causes pylorus muscles in infants to expand. These muscles are located in the stomach and aid in digestion by passing food into the small intestines. The expanded muscles cause food to get backed up in the stomach and not properly digested.

The condition does not have a proven cause; however, it is thought that some infants may be genetically inclined to develop it. Pyloric stenosis tends to occur most often in male infants, especially firstborns. It is also more likely to happen in Caucasian infants and usually develops within three weeks of birth.

One of the most common symptoms of pyloric stenosis is forceful vomiting that typically occurs right after feeding. If a baby has the condition, his or her stomach may ripple horizontally directly after consuming milk or formula because the stomach muscles are struggling to pass the nutrients through to the small intestine. The condition can also reduce urinating and bowel movements because the infant isn’t receiving enough nutrients to form waste that needs to exit the body.

Babies who have pyloric stenosis may either lose weight or maintain their weights when they should be growing. They may also seem fatigued because they aren’t getting enough energy from milk or formula. The condition typically causes an infant's stomach to become soft or wrinkled.

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A doctor diagnoses pyloric stenosis by feeling a baby’s stomach for a small, benign mass that indicates expanded pylorus muscles. If no mass is felt, X-rays can be performed to check for digestive blockage. A doctor may also administer blood tests to check for low levels of calcium or sodium which indicates the body isn’t absorbing enough fluid.

Pyloric stenosis is generally treated surgically with a procedure known as a pyloromyotomy. A doctor cuts a small incision into the infant’s stomach, usually near his or her naval. The extra pylorus muscles layers can be cut away. After a pyloromyotomy, the condition rarely reoccurs. Once the surgery is performed, stomach and digestive function generally return to normal without any permanent damages from the condition.

If the condition is not treated, it can result in serious complications. Infants who have the condition will not digest the proper amount of nutrients and can become severely underweight. Being underweight may lead to developmental problems. The condition can also result in dehydration since infants will tend to constantly vomit up fluids. In severe cases, untreated pyloric stenosis can lead to jaundice, a condition in which the eyes or skin begin to look yellow.

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