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Is Rumination Disorder a Mental Condition?

Rumination disorder is an eating disorder whereby an infant or a young child brings food back up and chews the partially digested food that was already swallowed. The food which is chewed again is in most cases swallowed again, but on occasions, the person will also spit it out.

In order to be considered as a disorder, this behavior must occur in an infant who had earlier been eating normally. It must also occur consistently for at least a month on a daily basis. The child may exhibit this behavior when being fed or right after the eating.

 Symptoms of Rumination Disorder

The Symptoms of rumination disorder include the following:

  • Repeated regurgitation of food.
  • Repeated re-chewing of food.
  • Weight loss.
  • Bad breath and tooth decay.
  • Indigestion and repeated stomachaches.
  • Raw and chapped lips.

Additionally, infants with rumination may indulge in unusual movements.  These may include straining and arching the back, holding the back of the head, tightening of the abdominal muscles, and making sucking movements with the mouth. The movements could be conducted by the infant with the sole intention of bringing back up the partially digested food.

 What Causes Rumination Disorder?

The precise reason for rumination disorder is unknown. However, several factors could contribute to its development. These include:

  • Physical illness or severe stress may trigger the behavior.
  • Neglect of the child or a poor relationship between the child and the mother or the primary caretaker. Some kids find the act of chewing quite comforting.
  • It could be a method by the child to gain attention.

 Is Rumination Disorder Common?

Rumination disorder is not a common problem. Therefore, it is difficult to determine the number of people affected by this condition. Most children outgrow rumination disorderOn the other hand, older children and adults are secretive about it because it is embarrassing.

Rumination disorder generally occurs in very young children between the age of three months and 12 months. It also affects children who have intellectual difficulties. Boys are affected in larger numbers than girls. However, there are no significant studies to confirm this finding.

The Complications Associated with Rumination Disorder

Several complications are associated with rumination disorder. They are:

  • Malnutrition.
  • Resistance to infections and diseases.
  • Slow growth.
  • Weight loss.
  • Stomach problems such as ulcers.
  • Dehydration.
  • Bad breath and tooth decay.
  • Pneumonia and respiratory problems due to vomit that is breathed back into the lungs.
  • Choking.
  • Death.

Treatment For Rumination Disorder

The treatment for rumination disorder mainly seeks to change the behavior of the child. Various approaches may be used during the treatment, including:

  • Changing the posture of the child during and immediately after eating.
  • Encouraging better interaction between the child and the mother during the feeding. The mother should give the child more attention.
  • Reducing distractions during the feeding.
  • Making the feeding a relaxing and pleasurable experience.
  • Distracting the child when he or she begins the behavior of rumination.
  • Aversive conditioning, which involves placing some bad-tasting or sour food on the tongue of the child when he or she begins regurgitation.

Counseling for the mother and the family may also be used to improve communication and to address any negative feelings towards the child because of the behavior. No medications are available to treat the condition of rumination disorder.

Rumination disorder is not an infection. Rather, it is as a result of a child feeling a sense of neglect for any reason. Therefore, it can be classified as a mental health condition that needs to be treated as such.

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