Parents of babies afflicted by pyloric stenosis (“PS”) are routinely assured that after surgery their little treasure will be “a different (and hugely improved) baby”. Often this is immediately true: instead of a baby vomiting him- or herself to death, PS babies often thrive and quickly reach the top of their percentile range.
But of course this is so only if the operation was –
- without complications (like infection or a hernia), and
- successful in opening up the pyloric passage (which it usually but certainly not always is), and
- if the baby is not left with years of GERD (reflux) related problems, a rather common outcome.
Many with a personal experience of PS, whether as parents or survivors, do have ongoing problems –
- during the immediate recovery period,
- during the child’s first years and sometimes continuing lifelong, and/or
- in adulthood.
- These people often resent that the medical advice they received
- denied these possibilities,
- left them with false expectations that” all would be well”, or
- skirted over the future possibilities embedded in a list of “to be mentioned” items the parents had to acknowledge and sign before surgery.
And when problems did arise (sometimes within days, sometimes after some weeks or years), the typically rather obvious link with abdominal surgery was denied despite several research reports to the contrary.
Among those who report having had a bad time with PS however, no group is as numerous or angry as those who experienced a diagnosis debacle, and in this post we listen to just a few of these parents, again from the several PS Groups on Facebook.
A L was born about 1985 and had a son in 2009
I was born with PS and my second child, a son, William was diagnosed with it at 4 weeks. Luckily, having had it myself, I was well aware of the odds of my child having it, especially a son. The pediatrician as well as the ER wasn’t extremely willing to diagnose PS until I advised them that I had also had it. Prior to that, I got quite a bit of attitude and snubs…
It is very disturbing to me reading others’ posts that something that is so easily rectified is so easily dismissed.
E D, born 1984
It feels so nice to know I’m not the only person to have had this condition! Even now doctors, midwives etc don’t know what PS is: awareness needs to be raised! I was one of the unlucky ones and had my operation in 1984. My mum had to fight with the doctors as they wouldn’t diagnose me with PS as I was a girl! I had my operation at 3 months when my weight was lower than my birth weight – thankfully I’m here to tell the story! Have had two little boys and thankfully neither of them have had it!
L G – son born 2014
My son had PS at 5 weeks. The doc said it was reflux, even though the health visitor said it was PS – because he was born at 36 weeks he said he couldn’t have it that young.
M G – son born 2010
My son was diagnosed at 5½ weeks old with PS in 2010. It took doctors 5 days and numerous times of me arguing till I was sent to a new hospital to find out what he had. My son almost died but had his surgery and soon bounced back. I am so thankful he is better. But I wish hospitals and doctors would check babies closer for this kind of condition instead of it being fobbed off as reflux all the time.
C L – son born 2014
My son had PS and had his operation at 5½ weeks old after me refusing to leave the doctors as they just kept prescribing gaviscon for reflux. He had key-hole surgery and was instantly better!
Our surgeon told us our son had been left that long his body had used all its fats and was about to start using up its muscle. Thank God he was seen when he was.
M K – daughter born 2013
My daughter, now 10 months old, had her surgery at 5 weeks old, was misdiagnosed by 5 different doctors over a 5 day period and had 2 negative upper GIs… she weighed 6 lbs at birth and at 5 weeks old was 4lbs 10oz after no doctor would test her for PS. We almost lost her from dehydration before I could find one that would… all because she was my second born daughter and they said [that the] odds were PS was not the cause for her projectile vomiting!
She is now experiencing bad reactions to milk. Took her to the doctor and they had no explanation other than possible allergy symptoms from sensitive stomach MAYBE related to her having pyloric stenosis as a newborn. But they have no clue. I thought it was all behind us, as those few weeks back in May were the worst I’ve ever experienced.
D M – son born 2014
My son is 16 weeks old and had surgery for PS at 4 weeks after 3 days in a row of me going to the doctor, 3 days in hospital and then still saying it was a virus!!! Long story short he had his op but still has some ongoing issues. I have joined other groups and it is clear to see a lot more research needs to be done for PS. The whole “normally happens in first born sons and everything returns to normal after 48 hours” is just not true in all cases!!!
F M – son 2014
My poor boy has not been able to feed for over a week due to “reflux”, the hospital said. I had doubts and have had him here 3 times (currently back in as we speak). Finally after him losing 9 oz in 3 days, they have listened to me which I tried to get them to do the first time I brought him in – which was a week today. I have said all along I thought he has pyloric stenosis but they brushed it off as reflux. Brought him back today as no improvement with gaviscon and ranitidine. They did an ultra sound and what does he have? Pyloric stenosis like I said 1 million times. My poor boy has been ill and sick after every feed, massive amounts and then made constipated with gaviscon and it’s not even f***ing reflux.
I am so angry it took 5 minutes to diagnose today and should have been done last week but they fobbed me off. Now having to go to another hospital so he can have surgery a s a p to have the issue fixed. Can’t believe they let it go on so long without listening to me and checking for this earlier, my poor boy has been through hell because they messed up and he has been made worse because they didn’t believe me. Upset, angry, and relieved we finally have it confirmed.
Ladies, if you think something is wrong don’t give up, and keep pushing them… if I hadn’t we would have been sent away [for another week] and he would then have been treated for cow’s milk allergy, and God knows what could have happened because he hasn’t been getting anything from his feeds.
Can’t believe they wouldn’t listen to me and I knew what was wrong.
I had pylorics, so did my son and 16 other family members; unfortunately one did pass away but that was back in the 50’s. And doctors are still saying it’s not hereditary. lol I think our family has proved them somewhat wrong. lol
Total fools! The thing is, it was on my side and my partner’s side, as I said, 16 members, but [my son was] still diagnosed with gastro reflux for 3 months even with this history. Total joke!
16 members across the family had PS, and we saw the symptoms straight away. This stems over 55 years: my son is the most recent case and I was the 10th member but female, so not diagnosed as soon as usual.
L S – son born in 2007
My little boy had pyloric stenosis. He was diagnosed at five weeks after a hideous time of not being taken seriously by the doctors. I went back for the third time and refused to move unless they saw us again and self-diagnosed. Finally they took me seriously. Literally moments after his op he was a different baby.
He’s seven and a half. Very pleased, yes. It’s taken this long to talk about it though.
E T – son born 2014
My son is 2½ month old and 2 weeks ago we noticed small changes in his behavior. Not as many poopy diapers, acting colicky, constantly hungry like [he was in] one really big growth spurt. He was never a spit up baby, but a week ago he started projectile vomiting. We went to his pediatrician twice, only to be told he had a very nasty virus. We were told to give him clear fluids for 24 hours and the virus should work itself out of his system. He then started vomiting blood… lots of blood-filled vomit. We went to an after-hours clinic and they sent us to the hospital because he was dehydrated. We went to the hospital, they did a blood panel, x-ray, administered fluids via IV, and sent us home with zofran. The next morning he was still vomiting blood so we went back to the hospital and they took an MRI and discovered he had PS and referred us to a children’s hospital for the operation to fix it. During the operation I cried, but I cried more after the operation since he had to wait 8 hours before he could eat anything and could only have ½ ounce and was crying uncontrollably because of hunger pains. My heart hurt for him. He is doing much better, being 4 days after his surgery!
S Y – self born in 1985 (& father 1953)
I was born in Dec 1985 and by the second day I was projectile vomiting every time I was fed, and sometimes after my parents thought I was done I would go again for another round. My parents both knew that something was wrong with me, my dad remembered his parents telling him what happened with him (they thought he had PS but it turned out to be a tumor bouncing up and down in his stomach)… My parents went to my pediatrician and he said that there was nothing to worry about – all babies throw up. Then they went through 3 other doctors and they got the same story and a few even told them that the likelihood that I had PS was slim to none, this went on until I was 15 days old and my mom and dad decided to take me back to the hospital I was born at, went into the ER and found the doctor that saved my life. He was a pediatric emergency surgeon. I was in surgery within a few hours of being admitted so that they could get all the tests and get me prepped for surgery. By this time I had lost 1 lb, which was huge considering I was only 6 lb 5 oz. I was released just in time for my very first Christmas.
After my parents recuperated from my ordeal they talked to that surgeon and found out that if they were to choose to have another child that child most likely would have the same thing I had. They talked and couldn’t go through it again.
My dad had his surgery in 1953…
The awful stories above would be understandable if PS were a rare condition. But it is not. The incidence varies a bit, but in developed countries ranges between 2 and 5 in every 1000. This means most of us would know several people who carry a PS story.
It must also be recognised that PS quite often (but far from always) takes a week or more to become “full blown” and able to be clearly diagnosed by touch, x-ray and ultrasound scan. And the health system as well as parents would not take kindly to an unnecessary surgical operation on a baby.
Yet the message is clear from the above stories and hundreds like it on the web. It is also a simple message that should not be impossible to learn and remember, especially by the highest IQ endowed people in society.
- Too many parents get “attitude” from their GP and pediatrician: patronising condescension and dismissiveness, even when the parents have done their homework, have PS in their family or personal genes, and find their baby’s weight loss has become serious.
- One would hope it is true that today’s trainee doctors are being taught more about people skills.
- Many doctors seem to wait far too long before ordering tests, resulting in too many PS babies being near death and possibly damaged for life by hunger and dehydration.
- From the countless available stories it seems few doctors advise seeking a second opinion or refer a baby to somebody more knowledgeable.
- One would hope that those who are humble and self-aware do one of the above – with the result of no traumatised and angry parents writing to a forum site!
This blog has several posts on the treatment of PS by medication with atropine or Ranitidine, a non-invasive option that is 100% safe for PS babies born full-term and older than 2 weeks and is standard practice in several developed (but non-English speaking) countries. Find these posts using the “Categories” box at the top right.
Parents who strongly suspect their newborn has PS have very good reason to insist on their doctor giving them respect, time, and clear explanations of their advice. It may be helpful for them to take a supportive person along to the consultation.