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Failure to Thrive

What is Failure to Thrive?

Failure to Thrive is the medical term used to describe children who are not growing at the expected rate for their age. Children who are most prone to this diagnosis are generally under five years of age, with those under two years of age being of special concern. Children who are adopted from other countries may be older.

What Causes Failure to Thrive?

A child who is not receiving adequate nutrition, who may be suffering from emotional neglect, poverty, abuse, or a child who has an underlying disease may not grow at the expected healthy rate. Babies who are born with a cleft palate, or who are born to a mother who smoked, drank alcohol or used drugs during pregnancy, may also fail to thrive.

The diseases or disorders that can cause a child to not grow normally can include Down syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, sickle cell anemia and cerebral palsy. Other diseases which affect the body’s ability to absorb food may also be to blame. This can include celiac disease and cystic fibrosis.

Symptoms of Failure to Thrive

Some of the common symptoms of children who have failure to thrive are:

  • underweight for their age
  • smaller than normal heads
  • shorter than normal
  • excessive thirst
  • developmental disabilities
  • frequent urination
  • very odorous stools
  • throw up food and swallow it
  • pale skin
  • appear limp and weak
  • excessively clingy
  • show signs of self-comforting such as head banging or rhythmic rocking

What the Doctor Will Do

If you doctor believes your child may have failure to thrive, he will order many tests on the child, which will generally include blood, urine and stool. The doctor will also do a very thorough growth chart on the child, and take an in-depth family history. A nutritional evaluation will be made to see if the child is consuming enough calories. Hospitalization may be required if the child is especially weak and unhealthy.

If failure to thrive is thought to be caused by economic, social or abusive issues, a social worker may become involved to help the family through the problem.

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