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Published on May 09, 2018

Anna Reed and Dr. Uko

Freedom to enjoy food again

The French word for perfect is "parfait." And it's quite fitting when you talk to 18-year-old Anna Reed about breakfast. Growing up, she started most days with a yogurt parfait, topped with her all-time favorite—honey.

Shortly after Anna turned 16, she began experiencing frequent stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea with almost every type of food she ate. "I remember thinking, 'How can I go wrong with yogurt, fruit and honey?' But about a half hour to an hour later, I would get so sick," describes Anna.

"I was scared to go out to eat with people. I didn't know if I was about to get sick, and I didn't want to make a big scene. I just stayed home. I didn't want to go anywhere," she recalls.

Anna's parents, Chad and Stephanie, turned to her pediatrician Steven Manson, MD, at Gundersen Health System, who recommended blood work, a food diary and an elimination diet to find an answer. Unfortunately, her symptoms persisted.

"As parents, we hurt and wanted to make her feel better, but without answers we felt helpless," says Stephanie.

CHRONIC ABDOMINAL PAIN affects more than 1/3 of elementary and middle school children who complain of weekly episodes of abdominal pain. 25% of children report symptoms lasting more than 8 weeks

Anna was referred to Victor Uko, MD, FAAP, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Gundersen, who evaluates and treats children with all types of digestive problems.

After extensive evaluations for abdominal pain, a fructose breath hydrogen test confirmed her diagnosis of fructose malabsorption.

"This was the first time I had ever heard of fructose malabsorption," says Anna, who also has gluten and dairy sensitivities.

Fructose malabsorption occurs when cells of the intestines are unable to break down and absorb fructose efficiently. Fructose is a simple sugar, known as a monosaccharide, which comes from fruit, honey and some vegetables. It's also found in many processed foods that contain added sugars.

While rare, Dr. Uko says there is a higher prevalence of fructose malabsorption in children with functional bowel disorders, such as chronic abdominal pain and irritable bowel syndrome. "Digestive disorders, such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease, which can lead to damage of the lining of the intestine, can also potentially lead to fructose malabsorption," Dr. Uko adds.

Although Anna's body dislikes many of the foods she once considered "parfait," she is glad to have the freedom to enjoy food again—including a diet filled with vegetables, protein and small portions of fruit on occasion. Her parents are thrilled to have their daughter back, too—an energetic, soon-to-be sophomore at Winona State University, who's studying molecular and cellular biology.

Anna aspires to be a physician assistant and offer patients hope, just as Dr. Uko did. "No matter what, you will feel better," he said during her first appointment.

"Those words, along with the kindness of every nurse, medical assistant and patient specialist we encountered, helped us make it through the roughest of days," says Stephanie.

Don't dismiss your child's symptoms. Contact your child's primary care provider or to schedule a visit with Dr. Uko, call Gundersen Pediatric Specialties at (608) 775-2599.

Care in your community

Pediatric gastroenterologist Victor Uko, MD, FAAP, is making it easier for children with digestive issues to receive care close to home with monthly outreach in Richland Center (Richland Medical Center) and Mauston (Mile Bluff Clinic). Telemedicine will be added at other regional locations later this year. No referral is needed. To make an appointment, call Gundersen Health System Pediatric Specialties at (608) 775-2599.

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