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‘Hidden’ Symptoms Can Point to Child Health Problems

By |2024-05-10T08:37:16-04:00July 20th, 2016|Categories: Pediatrics, Pregnancy and Parenting|Tags: |

By Zubaida Sadik, MD

When your child is sick or injured, you usually know it right away. Symptoms such as a fever, cough or joint swelling are hard to overlook.

Yet, as a pediatrician for more than 30 years, I’ve had patients whom I’ve found to have serious health problems during routine “well­-child” visits to my office. Often, their symptoms are things their parents might mention only in passing. While these more hidden symptoms may or may not be related to serious medical issues, they should be discussed with your pediatrician.

Falling Grades

During a routine physical, I had a mom tell me, when prompted, that her son used to be an “A” student but was suddenly getting lower grades. Was it a bad teacher? Tougher classes? Was he just busy with his friends?

After the mom left the room, I learned from the child that he was dealing with a host of social problems, including a divorce in the family and a parent’s job loss. His poor grades were a sign that he was likely suffering from some form of stress, anxiety or even depression, and he needed support and counseling.

Mental health problems are more common in children than most people realize, and they are on the rise, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Sleep Disturbances

If a child doesn’t sleep very well, parents are often quick to blame it on things such as drinking too much caffeine or staying up too late. While those things do negatively impact sleep, poor sleep can indicate just about any trouble in any system in our body and mind, including serious problems such as sleep apnea.

More and more, I’m also seeing sleep problems that turn out to be related to cyberbullying — the use of social media or other electronic communications to bully a person. Cyberbullying threatens a child’s mental and physical wellbeing — in addition to feeling terrorized, a child may experience symptoms such as headaches, abdominal pain or even fake an illness. He or she may also show a sudden decline in grades, refuse to go to school and avoid social situations.

I encourage parents to try to limit their child’s “screen” time to less than two hours a day, to “friend” their child on social media and to monitor, as much as possible, their child’s text messages and e­mails. Family meals are also a crucial time when children can feel safe to talk about important issues and when parents can ask, point blank, if a child feels he or she is being harmed in any way.


Parents can sometimes write off a child’s reluctance to go to school or other activities as normal childhood defiance, the result of too much time with electronics or as “just being lazy.” In reality, a change in a child’s activity level may be a sign that he or she just doesn’t have the energy to participate.

Fatigue is an early symptom for many health problems, from infectious diseases such as Lyme disease and mononucleosis to systemic diseases such as diabetes and thyroid or blood disorders. Loss of interest in activities can also indicate mental health problems.

During the summer, I see a lot of fatigue related to dehydration — children who run around all day and forget to drink enough water and other non­-carbonated, non-caffeinated beverages. Dehydration can cause temporary ailments such as foggy memory, fainting or dizziness, but it can also indicate very dangerous problems such as heat exhaustion.

Weight Gain

With the rise in childhood obesity — one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese — weight gain is a symptom that’s becoming hidden in plain sight. I have seen many children who are overweight and may appear fairly active and healthy, but are found to have serious health issues after undergoing routine blood, urine and other testing.

Today, we are seeing overweight children who are exhibiting health problems we used to only associate with adults — things like type 2 diabetes, which is when your body does not use insulin properly, and fatty liver disease. Another common issue is obstructive sleep disorder associated with snoring. Due to lack of sleep, children are often having difficulty focusing during school hours.

I find that most families understand that increased activity and better eating habits — even small changes such as eliminating sugary drinks — are the keys to weight loss. We often just have to work together to inspire them and to figure out what’s getting in the way of the family adopting more healthy habits.

CentraState for Pediatrics

If your child is facing a life­ threatening medical issue, dial 911. If your child needs urgent care, CentraState Medical Center’s Pediatrics Emergency Department offers a family­ friendly treatment area, including a First Care service that is designed to treat minor injuries in less than 30 minutes. Find out more here or by calling 866­-CENTRA7 (866-­236­-8727).

For routine and preventive care, CentraState Medical Center’s Physician Finder offers an extensive roster of highly skilled doctors, including board­-certified pediatricians, with offices located throughout central New Jersey. Visit here or call 866­-CENTRA7.

pediatrician freehold njDr. Zubaida Sadik is a board-certified pediatrician on staff at CentraState Medical Center. Her practice, Dr. Sadik and Associates in Freehold, can be reached by calling  732-­577-­0047 or visiting

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