Swallowing and digestive disorders can seriously affect a person's health. These disorders include:

  • Reflux: occurs when swallowed food doesn't stay in the stomach
  • Dumping syndrome: stomach empties too quickly; often found with gastrostomy tube feedings. Symptoms include behavior problems, unusual heartbeat, vomiting, diarrhea, wide swings in blood sugar levels.
  • Lactose intolerance: trouble digesting dairy products, especially larger amounts. Symptoms include behavior problems, gas, diarrhea.

Often, symptoms of these disorders happen around mealtime, nap time, or bedtime.

Mealtime behaviors that may be telling you about swallowing or digestive disorders:

  • Behaviors that worsen around meal time
  • Refuses to eat
  • Takes more than 30 minutes to eat a meal
  • Prefers liquids, or soft or pureed food; dislikes textured foods like raw vegetables; dry particulate foods like hamburger
  • When eating, coughs, gags, arches back or flexes neck, twists body
  • Pockets food in mouth or cheeks
  • Needs to swallow several times
  • Drools, loses food from mouth
  • Partly digested food in mouth long after eating
  • Coughs, especially toward end of meal
  • Puts hands into mouth (hand-mouthing)
  • Grinds teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Congestion after meals
  • Vomits (if vomit resembles coffee grounds, call your doctor immediately)

Behaviors associated with reflux that may be telling you about swallowing or digestive disorders:

  • Behavior worsens when lying down to rest, for naps, at bedtime
  • Coughs when lying down
  • Wakes often at night
  • Asthma attacks at night
  • Chewed or partially digested food on the pillow in the morning

Other factors that may indicate the presence of a swallowing or digestive dDisorder:

  • Enamel on teeth is damaged; especially on back teeth
  • Frequent bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, sinus infections, nasal infections
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Swollen stomach
  • Gassiness
  • Underweight
  • If living with others, Helicobacter pylori infections found with other residents
  • Presence of cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, scoliosis, poor positioning

Do you think someone's behavior may be telling you about a swallowing or digestive disorder? Talk with your doctor or other health care provider. They can work with you to learn whether this is the case.