Failure to Thrive: Tests and Diagnosis

What tests are used to diagnose failure to thrive? 

There are many approaches to the diagnosis and management of failure to thrive. If there is a specific symptom that is impacting weight gain, such as persistent vomiting or diarrhea, our doctors will focus on that symptom to help make a diagnosis.

Many children, however, do not have obvious symptoms when they present with poor weight gain. A frequent starting point is to ask families to complete a diary of all food and drink a child takes in for three days, to get a “calorie count.”

Why choose Children’s Hospital Colorado for failure to thrive?

Our registered dietitians are skilled in estimating how many calories a child is receiving in a day and deciding whether or not this amount is adequate to support weight gain and growth. If a child is not consuming enough calories, our diagnostic approach is focused on understanding why – is there a feeding or swallowing problem, for instance? Additionally, a nutritional program may be developed to supplement the child’s current diet with additional calories.

If it appears from the initial calorie count that the child is consuming enough, our diagnostic approach will then focus on making sure that the gastrointestinal tract performs an adequate job of digesting and absorbing food. Our doctors will also focus on ensuring that your child does not have an underlying, undiagnosed illness that leads him or her to require more calories than normal.

What to expect from failure to thrive tests?

There is no one-size-fits-all test for a child with failure to thrive. Children may require extensive testing or very limited testing. Our Digestive Health Institute staff will ensure that the appropriate amount of testing is performed for your child.

How do doctors at Children’s Colorado make a diagnosis?

Depending on the symptoms and clinical history, the diagnostic approach may include laboratory testing with blood and stool samples, radiological evaluations like x-rays, endoscopic evaluation using a camera to look at the intestines, and consultation with registered dietitians, feeding therapists, and other pediatric specialists.