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What Is Rumination Disorder?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2016
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A mysterious condition known as rumination disorder can cause young children — particularly those three months old to toddler age — to repeatedly regurgitate their food, only to chew it again for another attempt at swallowing. For a doctor to suspect this eating disorder, other physical problems must be ruled out. If regurgitation and rechewing occurs regularly for a month or more, however, physical damage could start occurring and behavioral therapy must take place to counter the problem.

A child suffering from rumination disorder will not appear to be dismayed by the vomit. He or she will merely chew it again and attempt to swallow it. This could occur from time to time for any young child just learning how to eat. If it occurs on a nearly daily basis, however, for several weeks in a row, medical attention is needed. Other physical symptoms of rumination disorder include sudden weight loss, tooth decay, foul breath, chapped lips and acid indigestion. According to WebMD, characteristic movements like arching the back, flexing the stomach and tilting the head rearward could be signs a child is attempting to regurgitate his or her food.

A doctor might first suspect other conditions before locking in on rumination disorder. According to the National Institutes of Health, hiatal hernia can cause young children to have regular reflux problems. Another disorder causing regular regurgitation, called pyloric stenosis, happens when the entrance to the small intestine from the stomach is too small.

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As of 2011 it is still unknown what causes rumination disorder, although common precursors are neglect, stress and abuse. Studies have found that behavioral therapy is successful in ending the condition, which usually manifests itself immediately after a meal. A few teenagers and adults have developed it for unknown reasons too. No medical treatments have yet been successful in combating it.

Medical intervention is needed since rumination disorder can cause physical problems like dehydration, malnutrition, lethargy, immunodeficiency, respiratory disorders, stifled development, anemia and hormonal imbalances. Blood tests can quickly determine the damage that has been done to the body by the disorder, but counseling is often needed — both individual and family sessions — to end the disorder itself. When children are very young, this course of action could be extremely time-consuming. Physicians can only recommend regular stimulation, loving relationships and close medical observation.

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