Without nerves in the intestinal walls, the bowel cannot move food stuff or waste products. This creates a block in the digestive system.
Most babies with Hirschsprung's disease are diagnosed within six weeks after birth. Most newborns - even premature ones - pass a first stool within 24 to 48 hours after being born.
The failure to pass a stool paired with a swollen belly and vomiting are signs of possible Hirschsprung's disease.
In some cases, it takes more time to discover a child has Hirschprung's. This is particularly so when only a short section of the intestine lacks nerves. Older children with Hirschsprung's disease may never have a normal bowel movement. They may either have constipation that gets worse over time or pass small watery stools. They may have little or no appetite and be delayed in their growth patterns. Other signs are colitis (infection and inflammation in the colon) or blood poisoning.
Causes and Risk Factors
Hirschsprung's disease happens when the nerves to the intestines don't develop properly during the fifth and twelfth weeks of pregnancy. It is not known why this happens. Nothing - neither medications nor diet during pregnancy - has been found to be the cause.
Hirschsprung's disease occurs five times more often in boys than girls. There may be genetic factors involved. If one child in a family has the disease, there is about a 3% to 12% that a future child will have it. If one parent has Hirschsprung's, the chances are greater that a child will be born with it. (The chances are greater still if the parent is the mother). Children with Down's syndrome are more likely to be born with Hirschsprung's disease.