Pyloric Stenosis

What is Pyloric Stenosis?

Pyloric Stenosis is an issue with the valve between the stomach and small intestine that primarily affects infants. Babies develop enlarged pylorus muscles which block the flow of food from the stomach via this muscular valve. As a result, food doesn’t move into the small intestine and cannot be digested.

Babies with pyloric stenosis may not be born with it; instead, the pylorus muscles may begin to thicken right after birth.

There may be both genetic and environmental causes for pyloric stenosis, but the medical community doesn’t know exactly why it occurs. The condition is four times more likely to show up in boys than in girls. There may also be an increase in infants who took erythromycin in the first weeks of life, or whose mothers took the antibiotic late in pregnancy.

What are the Symptoms of Pyloric Stenosis?

Babies with pyloric stenosis can’t digest the food in their stomachs. Instead, they vomit the food up – usually very forcefully – which leads to dehydration and weight loss. Infants with this condition may seem to be hungry constantly and may cry more than normal. Constipation and a reduction in bowel movements also takes place.

Pyloric Stenosis Causes

Pyloric Stenosis is a fairly unusual condition that can occur in infants. It is marked by the thickening of the pylorus valve between the small intestine and the stomach, which then prevents food from moving from the stomach into the small intestine. This condition can lead to projectile vomiting, dehydration and a general lack of nutrition for the infant. These complications can be very serious. The causes of Pyloric Stenosis are generally unknown, although scientists suspect it is hereditary. However, the condition does not seem to be present when the baby is born but develops afterward. Some factors that seem to contribute to the development of Pyloric Stenosis include gender (it occurs more frequently in boys), race (Caucasians are more likely to develop the condition), premature birth, family history, bottle feeding, early use of certain antibiotics and smoking by the mother during pregnancy.

How is Pyloric Stenosis Treated?

Fortunately, pyloric stenosis is generally diagnosed early and initially treated with intravenous fluids to rehydrate and restore balance in the baby’s body.

The only way to eliminate pyloric stenosis is through surgery. The operation is called a pyloromyotomy, and it opens up the pyloric valve to allow food to be transported into the small intestine. It can be done as a traditional open surgery or using laparoscopic techniques.

Pyloric Stenosis Prevention

The hereditary quality of Pyloric Stenosis cannot really be prevented. However, some of the risk factors that seem to lead to the development of the disease can be mitigated or avoided altogether. Quality prenatal care that helps the mother carry the baby to term can reduce the risk of premature birth. The same is true for avoiding cigarettes and smoking during pregnancy. Children born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy are twice as likely to develop Pyloric Stenosis. Avoiding the use of antibiotics in the earliest days of the infant’s life, unless absolutely necessary, could also be a preventative measure. The choice to breast feed over bottle feeding may also act as a prevention to Pyloric Stenosis as bottle-fed babies have proven more likely to develop the disease than an infant who is breast fed. It is not clear whether it is the formula or the different mechanism that may trigger the condition, but in either case, choosing breast feeding can avoid that risk altogether.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
January 17, 2018