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What Causes Ulcers in Children?

What Causes Ulcers in Children?

Some people believe that consuming spicy foods leads to peptic ulcers; others think people with high-stress jobs are more vulnerable. However, these are misconceptions. The truth is, ulcer mainly happens due to Helicobacter pylori and everyone – even kids – can experience it. But, what causes ulcers in children?

Peptic Ulcers, Defined

Before we talk about what causes ulcers in children, let’s first briefly define what the condition is:

Peptic ulcers are open wounds or lesions in the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). An ulcer in the lining of the stomach is referred to as a gastric ulcer, while an ulcer in the duodenum is called a duodenal ulcer.

Symptoms of Stomach or Duodenal Ulcer in a Child

The tricky thing about ulcers is that they don’t always cause symptoms. If they do, it is probably an empty feeling or a “gnawing” pain in the upper abdomen, somewhere between the breastbone and the navel. The pain usually occurs early in the morning or in between meals.

The other less common symptoms of peptic ulcers in children are:

  • Belching or burping
  • Nausea and vomiting; sometimes, kids vomit with blood.
  • Poor appetite, which can lead to weight loss or failure to gain weight
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Blood in stools

If you observe these symptoms in your child, don’t resort to home remedies; bring them to the doctor. They might need medications to reduce stomach acid or antibiotics to eliminate the H. pylori bacteria.

what causes ulcers in children

What Causes Ulcers in Children?

Knowing what causes ulcers in children helps you eliminate or reduce their exposure to triggering factors. Below are the potential reasons why kids develop peptic ulcers:

H. pylori infection

First on our list is H. pylori infection. The bacteria produce substances that weaken the protective mucus in your child’s stomach, making it more vulnerable to the effects of acid.

Some experts believe that while H. pylori infection may be the most common cause of ulcers in adults, it may just be a factor in kids. The factors that increase their risk of H. pylori infection are:

  • Living in an overcrowded area
  • Bed-sharing
  • Genetics; Hispanic and African-American backgrounds might have a higher risk.

Finally, studies suggest that kids whose parents have peptic ulcers are also more likely to develop ulcers, especially if the parent’s ulcer is due to H. pylori infection.

Medications

Doctors believe that more kids develop medicine-related gastric ulcers. According to them, even moderate use of Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) can lead to some digestive issues such as bleeding.

Common NSAIDs that might make the stomach more prone to damage due to acid are ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. Please note that acetaminophen does not lead to an ulcer; that’s why it’s a go-to choice for many people.

Smoking

What causes ulcers in children? According to reports, smokers are more likely to develop ulcers than non-smokers. Moreover, the habit slows down the healing time and increases the risk that the ulcer will happen again.

Smoking may be more common in adolescents, but experts say that second-hand smoke is also a factor for younger children.

Illness

Finally, kids who experience severe illnesses, major surgery, and serious burns might also develop ulcers due to physical stress. The possibility that they are taking NSAIDs can again come into play.

How to Manage Ulcers at Home

As mentioned earlier, the first step is to bring them to the doctor to identify what causes ulcers in children. Once the doctor recommends a treatment plan, you can do the following at home:

  • If it’s pylori infection, make sure that your child takes all their antibiotics as prescribed, even if they feel better.
  • Follow their advice to change medications; also ensure that your child takes the prescribed acid-reducing medicine.
  • Limit their intake of foods that seem to trigger their symptoms. Caffeine should be avoided since it triggers acid production. However, remember that a healthy, balanced diet is crucial for their healing.
  • Watch out for habits that may trigger or worsen their ulcers, such as cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption.

Learn more about Child Health here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Jun 30
Medically reviewed by Elfred Landas, M.D.
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