Medical Conditions

Once a diagnosis is made, you should learn more about the condition and how it can affect you. Some issues are serious, but many others are not. The information below will give you a head start on some of the more common health problems affecting kids.

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Allergies and Immune System

  • Allergies occur when a person's immune system reacts to a substance in the environment which is usually harmless. Reactions are typically mild, like with seasonal allergies and hay fever (runny nose, itchy eyes, etc).
  • Some people have more serious allergic reactions (for example, to peanuts or bee stings). More severe symptoms can occur like asthma and difficulty breathing, swelling (known as angioedema), and anaphylaxis (which can be life-threatening).


  • Asthma results in reversible airflow obstruction in the lungs (wheezing and difficulty breathing), also known as bronchospasm. It is due to chronic inflammatory disease of the airways, and may be associated with allergies. Spirometry is a test to evaluate for asthma, and inhalers can help improve breathing.

Bone Fractures

  • Bone fractures are usually due to trauma or injury. When bones "break," they can stay in place or move as a result of the fracture. Usually, fractures are associated with pain, and X-rays of the bone are the best way to evaluate them. Often, a cast or splint is needed to immobilize the affected bone that is fractured.


  • Cancer, also known as malignant neoplasm, is due to uncontrolled growth of a particular group of cells in the body. Since these cells continue to grow abnormally, they affect normal cells and can lead to many problems. Cancer can be treated with chemotherapy (powerful medications), radiation (high dose X-rays), and surgery. Oncologists are the doctors who specialize in treatment of cancer.

Depression and Mental Illness

  • Depression and other mental illness can occur in children and teenagers. These issues are very important to recognize early and treat as needed. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who prescribe medications to help patients get better, while psychologists hold a doctorate in psychology and emphasize non-medication therapy for patients with mental illness.

Developmental Issues

  • Child development refers to all the changes that occur as children progress into adolescence and adulthood. Issues can arise in biological, psychological, and emotional areas, and doctors and therapists are trained to help along the way.


  • Diabetes mellitus involves sugar levels being too high in the blood and can lead to serious symptoms and long term complications. Most young people have Type 1 diabetes, due to insufficient production of insulin. A much less common form of diabetes is called Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (or MODY) and is due to insulin resistance (body has trouble using the insulin that is present).

Eating Disorders

  • Eating disorders are relatively common in adolescents and range from anorexia nervosa (excessive weight loss due to irrational fear of gaining weight) to bulemia nervosa (binge eating followed by purging). There are both mental and physical aspects of the disease, and patients need to work with trained specialists to overcome these illnesses.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

  • GERD results in symptoms of indigestion, acid reflux, or "heart burn." It is due to reflux (acidic stomach contents moving up into the esophagus, which is the tube that carries food from mouth to the stomach). Watching what you eat and taking medications for this can help control symptoms.


  • Infection involves invasion of a person's body by organisms that cause disease. Most commonly, these organisms involve bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Infections are described by the area of the body involved (e.g. pneumonia involves the lungs, skin infection is known as cellulitis, and infection of the blood stream is called sepsis). The first step in treating infection is identifying the organism that is causing illness by "taking a culture." Once the correct organism is found, the appropriate treatment can be given (often involving medications called antibiotics).

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or IBS) is also known as spastic colon. It can be associated with abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, and either diarrhea or constipation. Although medications can be prescried for IBS, it is often good to start with diet and life-style changes first. Doctors who specialize in the GI (gastrointestinal) tract are called Gastroenterologists.

Juvenile Arthritis

  • Arthritis is a joint disorder that involves inflammation of one or more joints, and can lead to pain and damage to the joints. Usually, arthritis occurs in adults, but when present in childhood, it is known as Juvenile Arthritis, and is due to an abnormal immune system. Rheumatologists are doctors who specialize in arthritis, and treatment with anti-inflammatory medications is usually considered first.


  • Obesity is very common in America and involves the accumulation of excess body fat and weight that can have a negative impact on a person's health. It is the leading cause of preventable death, and efforts have been made to identify and treat obesity in children before it becomes more serious in adulthood.

Preventing Health Issues

  • Many health problems are preventable by adopting a healthy lifestyle involving good nutrition, regular exercise, and avoiding substance abuse that can damage your body (like cigarette smoking, alcohol, and illegal use of drugs). Rather than take medications for medical conditions that develop later, most people would prefer to follow healthy practices now to prevent more serious issues later.


  • Scoliosis can be common in youth and involves an abnormal curvature of the spine. When identified early, non-surgical treatment (like bracing) can be considered to stabilize the spine during growth and prevent need for surgery later in life.


  • Epilepsy is a brain disorder that can affect children and adolescents, resulting in recurrent seizures. A number of treatment options exist, and doctors who specialize in the nervous system are called Neurologists.


  • When does stress become an issue? ...when it begins to negatively affect your health. It can start with feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious, and later lead to inability to more serious problems, like inability to sleep, depression, and panic attacks. It is important to identify abnormal levels of stress and seek help early. See section on How to Cope for more information.

Substance Abuse

  • Drug abuse involves using substances which are harmful to your body and mind, often associated with addiction or the inability to stop (even when great harm is being done with continued use). Examples of substance abuse include cigarette smoking, chewing tobacco, marijuana, inappropriate use of prescription medications, and use of illegal drugs. Once a person starts, it is often very difficult to stop, and the best advice is to not start at all.