“Mom, I have a tummy ache,” is perhaps one sentence that invokes dread among most parents. Although stomach pain is rather common among children, the sheer unpredictability of the pain’s cause can throw you into turmoil. Either way, your child will always call it a tummy ache. So, should you take him to the doctor? Or, should you just shower your little one with some TLC (tender loving care) and let the pain take its natural course?
Yes, as a parent, you will find it tough to decide whether your child’s complaint is worth a visit to the pediatrician. And, this is precisely why MomJunction has put together some essential information for you. Armed with the right knowledge, you can take an informed decision. So, read on to learn about the possible causes, symptoms and treatment for stomach (abdominal) pain in children.
What Is Stomach (Abdominal) Pain In Children?
Stomach pain in children occurs around the belly or, as indicated by the name, around the stomach area. The pain can emanate from anywhere from your child’s chest down to his groin. The good news is that isn’t a serious problem. But at other times, it could be the sign of a serious underlying health issue.
[ Read: Constipation In Children ]
Causes Of Abdominal Pain In Children:Sponsored
One of the reasons stomach pain in a child is tough to diagnose, is the number of causes. Your child can complain of a tummy ache due to something as simple as constipation or gas, or something as severe as appendicitis or lead poisoning.
Some of the causes of stomach pain in kids include the following:
Gone are those days when fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains were part and parcel of every home-cooked meal. Today, parents are busy working and managing household chores that often make it difficult for them to lay a fiber-rich diet on the table. A low fiber diet is probably one of the major reasons for constipation in older children, which causes abdominal pain.
2. Urinary Tract Infection:
If your child has a urinary tract infection, he may complain of a pain and burning sensation while urinating and also have discomfort in the abdominal and bladder region (lower abdominal area).
More often than not, an inflamed appendix is one of the most common causes of stomach (abdominal) pain in children. Appendicitis is a medical emergency, as an inflamed appendix can rupture or perforate, causing a spread of infectious material in the abdominal cavity. A ruptured appendicitis can lead to peritonitis, which can be fatal.
4. Strep Throat:
As strange as it may sound, strep throat can result in abdominal pain. This infection occurs due to streptococci bacteria, and symptoms include fever, sore throat, and stomach pain. Your child may even vomit and complain of a headache.
5. Milk Allergy:
If your little one is allergic to the protein present in milk, he can get a cramp-like pain in the stomach along with diarrhea, skin rash, and vomiting.
6. Lead Poisoning:
Smaller kids and toddlers are notorious for putting things in their mouth. If you have used lead-based paint in your home or your little one has toys painted with lead-based paint, there is a high risk of lead poisoning. If your child has abdominal pain accompanied by lethargy, poor appetite, convulsions, irritability, and constipation, it could be lead poisoning.
7. Worry Pain:
Just like adults, kids to get stressed. This functional pain originates in the psyche, with no physiological reason. Besides abdominal pain, your child will not exhibit other symptoms like fever, diarrhea, cough, weakness, lethargy, and sore throat. If you notice your child is quieter than usual and has problems expressing his feelings or thoughts, there could be something troubling him at school or home which triggers the abdominal pain.
Other Causes Of Stomach Pain In Children:
Remember, most times stomach (abdominal) pain in children does not signify a serious problem. Your child may have a belly ache due to:
- Acid reflux or heartburn
- Swallowing air
- An abdominal migraine, a type of a migraine that afflicts children. However, it is not accompanied by the characteristic headache of a migraine
- Food allergy 
There are occasions when the cause of your child’s abdominal pain is serious and requires immediate medical attention. Besides appendicitis, other causes of stomach ache in children that are serious and shouldn’t be ignored include:
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- Stomach ulcer
- Sickle cell disease
- Intussusception (when a portion of the intestine pulls inward into itself)
Symptoms Of Stomach (Abdominal) Pain In Children:
As a parent, you most probably will notice if your little one has a stomach pain. Besides complaining about tummy pain, your little one cries incessantly, screws up his face in agony, and curls up to ease the pain. Other symptoms that can give you a clear idea about your child’s condition:
1. Duration Of The Pain:
Typically, abdominal pain with simple causes does not last very long. This pain can be due to gas or stomach flu and disappears within 24 hours. Any pain that lasts for more than 24 hours requires evaluation by a doctor.
2. Location Of The Pain:
If your little one says stomach pain, it is an ambiguous description. Pain with no complication usually is located in the central part of the abdomen. If the pain is present in the lower part of the abdomen or some other area, it is a cause for concern and should be checked by a physician.
3. How Does Your Child Appear?
In case, your child looks ill, take him to the doctor. Looking at your kid, you will see things like listlessness, pale skin, sweating, and sleepiness. If you are unable to distract the child with play, and he refuses to eat or drink anything for many hours, it is a cause for concern.
Many children vomit if they have abdominal pain. Remember vomiting does not always mean something serious. If the vomiting abates within 24 hours, you have no reason to worry. On the other hand, if your child continues vomiting after 24 hours, rush him to the doctor. Also, check the vomitus. If it has blood or dark material or appears green or yellow, you need to visit a physician right away.
[ Read: Vomiting In Kids ]
Stomach (abdominal) pain in children can result in diarrhea, which is common when your child has a viral infection. Usually, diarrhea due to infection lasts about 72 hours. Anything longer or blood in the stool is something that your doctor must know about.
Fever and stomach pain do not mean your child has a serious problem. In fact, you should be more worried when your child has a bellyache with no fever. It often is due to some serious issue.
7. Pain In The Groin:
Young boys may claim to have a stomach pain when in reality the pain originates somewhere else. This can result due to testicular torsion, where the testicles entwine, and the blood supply is cut off. Your child may be shy to tell you about the location of the pain. So ask him if he has pain down there. Testicular torsion can be fixed easily if identified early. But it is a medical emergency. So act quickly!
8. Urinary Infection:
If your child complains of abdominal pain while urinating, it is a sign of urinary infection. Don’t worry. The infection can be treated with antibiotics, and your little one will be back to normal within no time.
[ Read: UTI in children ]
9. Skin Rash:
If your kid complains of abdominal pain and also has a skin rash, contact your pediatrician immediately. Your child may be having Henoch-Schonlein purpura, scarlet fever or some other serious condition.
Diagnosing Abdominal Pain In Children:
Kids stomach ache can develop due to several causes, diagnosing the precise cause requires several diagnostic tests. Some things the doctor will look for, include:
1. Child’s Medical History:
The doctor will ask you about your child’s medical history. So be sure to carry his file along when you take him to see the doctor. The physician may also ask about your family medical history if he suspects an autoimmune disorder or any other grave problem.
2. Physical Examination:
While the doctor is checking the child, he will try to ascertain the location of the pain and also get a description of the pain. As a part of the physical exam, the doctor most likely will perform a rectal exam to check for bleeding.
3. Blood Tests:
The doctor will get a nurse or phlebotomist to draw a blood sample for testing in the laboratory. He will request for a complete blood count (CBC), blood cultures, liver function test, lead level and/or amylase/lipase level.
4. Urine Test:
Your little one would have to provide a urine sample for urine culture and urinalysis. These results will be available in a day or two and allows the doctor to check whether your child has a urinary infection.
5. Stool Test:
You would have to provide a sample of your child’s stool, which is tested for parasites, bacteria, and presence of blood.
6. Imaging Tests:
An X-ray would be the first imaging test that the doctor asks to check for abnormalities in the organs and tissues. Other imaging tests that the doctor may recommend include a CT scan of the abdomen and ultrasound of the testicles and abdomen.
7. Special Tests:
Sometimes, the doctor may conduct a pelvic examination and also order other tests depending on your child’s symptoms and condition. These include taking a barium enema or swallow or undergoing anal manometry.
Treatment For Abdominal Pain In Children:
Usually, simple abdominal pain in children can be treated at home. With adequate bed rest and fluids, and avoiding antibiotics, solid food and aspirin, your child should be up and about within no time. If he has a fever, give him a little Acetaminophen after checking the right dosage with your pediatrician.
Here are a few ways to treat abdominal pain and even doctors approve of these treatment and solution methods.
1. Bed Rest:
If your child has abdominal pain, bed rest will benefit him. Get him to lie on his belly, but don’t insist on it. The best position is the one that makes your child feel better.
2. Fluid Intake:
If your child has diarrhea and is vomiting, make sure he consumes a lot of fluids. Give him about one to two ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes until he can consume more. Avoid giving him carbonated drinks and sugary beverages. This means fruit juices, sodas, milk, tea and sports drinks are out of the question.
If your little one is less than a year old, consult your pediatrician for an Oral Rehydration Solution. Older children benefit from ginger ale, light broth, and soup.
3. Solid Food:
Don’t force your child to eat solid food. Children (and adults) can survive a long time without food. Your little one will let you know when he is ready to eat. Refrain from stuffing your child to make up for the lost food. Instead, start with something light, like crackers and toast. If he can stomach it, gradually move to regular food. Light food like cooked rice, apple sauce, banana and plain toast will be the best if your child is off food due to abdominal pain. Do not give your child fatty food and tomato products.
Instead of making your child eat a large amount, break up the food into smaller portions and let him eat it every two to three hours. Avoid anything that gives gas. Even too much fiber can produce gas. So don’t go overboard with fruits and vegetables.
[ Read: Causes Of Gas Pain In Children ]
Consult your pediatrician before giving your child any medication. Usually, acetaminophen is the best for fever. Avoid aspirin, as it could result in Reye’s Syndrome if you overdose your child. This syndrome causes swelling of the brain and liver. Also, give your child antibiotics only if the doctor prescribes them.
You should seek proper medical treatment if after 24 hours your child still has a high fever, diarrhea and is vomiting. Many times, the primary reason for stomach (abdominal) pain in children is appendicitis.
[ Read: Appendicitis In Children ]
When To Seek Medical Intervention?
As mentioned earlier, if your child still has abdominal pain after 24 hours, has a fever, diarrhea and is vomiting, consult your pediatrician.
Your child needs emergency medical help if:
- He is less than three months of age and has diarrhea and vomiting.
- Your child is receiving treatment for cancer.
- Your child is unable to have a bowel motion and is also vomiting.
- Your little one is vomiting blood or has presence of blood in his stool.
- Your kid complains of sharp and sudden stomach pain.
- You notice your child’s belly is hard and rigid.
- Your child is having problems breathing.
- Your kid has recently sustained an abdominal injury.
Risks And Complications Of Abdominal Pain In Children:
As a parent, it can be tough for you to decide if your child’s abdominal pain is serious or not. Remember if your child has the pain, is vomiting, has a high-grade fever and has diarrhea for more than 24 hours, don’t neglect him. You could risk your child developing serious or even life-threatening complications.
1. Gastrointestinal Infection:
Viral infections, such as those caused by Rotavirus, can be serious. These infections cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting that can dehydrate your child.
2. Strep Throat:
Strep infection of the throat occurs due to the streptococci bacteria. In many children, the infection causes stomach pain and fever. If you don’t get the infection treated, it could result in rheumatic fever, which an inflammatory disease that damages the heart valves and causes heart failure.
This is a condition where one part of the intestine inverts into the adjacent part. It blocks the blood supply to the affected part of the intestine. Hence, it requires treatment. Usually, the intestine can be pushed back into place with the help of an X-ray. This condition is prevalent in children between the ages of six months and two years.
Abdominal pain in the lower right side of the abdomen is a sign of appendicitis. An inflamed appendix requires surgical intervention. Sometimes, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics to reduce the inflammation and then decide whether to remove the appendix or not.
Peritonitis is a medical emergency. It occurs due to an infection in the abdominal cavity. It can result from a ruptured appendix or bowel. Signs of peritonitis are a sudden and severe pain in the abdomen, fever, and hardness of the stomach. This is a life-threatening infection.
Prevention Tips For Stomach Pain In Children:
You can prevent your little one from getting stomach pain due to indigestion, constipation, and infections. Here are some tips that you can use to prevent your child from getting bellyaches:
- Do not let your child overeat. Instead, divide the food into smaller and more frequent meals.
- Encourage your child to eat fiber-rich food like veggies and fruits to prevent constipation.
- Teach your child to wash his hands with soap and water before eating. This can prevent viruses and bacteria from entering his body and causing gastrointestinal infections.
- Do not let your child eat just before going to bed. It will cause indigestion or lead to acid reflux.
- Make sure your child drinks a lot of fluids, in particular, water. It will prevent his stool from hardening and also keep him well-hydrated.
[ Read: Indigestion In Children ]
Home Remedies For Stomach Pain In Children:
Usually, the doctors do not recommend home remedies for abdominal pain. So first speak to your pediatrician before you decide to give your child the following home remedies.
1. Natural Yogurt:
If your child has diarrhea and abdominal pain, the probiotics in yogurt will help restore the balance of the good bacteria. This, in turn, helps the body to absorb nutrients rather than expelling them.
Applesauce is great for children with stomach pain due to an upset stomach, try giving him some applesauce. It will ease diarrhea and help your child recover faster from the upset stomach.
3. Chamomile Tea:
Chamomile tea soothes abdominal cramps, thanks to its natural anti-inflammatory properties. It relaxes the abdominal muscles, thereby easing the cramps. You can add a little bit of honey to make the tea more appetizing for your child.
Honey has antibacterial properties and also is rich in carbs, sugars, and antioxidants. Give your child some honey dissolved in a glass of warm water. It will soothe the stomach. However, do not give your child honey if he is less than a year old. Your child may get botulism with raw honey.
5. Hot Water Bottle:
There is nothing more soothing than a hot water bottle. It increases blood supply to the abdomen and eases the pain.
If your child has indigestion or abdominal pain due to overeating, ginger can provide him relief. You can buy candied ginger and let him chew it to soothe his stomach. Refrain from giving ginger to your little one if he is under two years of age.
There are diverse reasons for abdominal pain in children. Usually, stomach pain in children is not a cause for concern. However, if the pain persists and your child also has a fever, diarrhea, bleeding and other worrying symptoms, seek medical assistance right away. Undiagnosed and untreated stomach pain can be life-threatening.
We would like to hear about your experiences. How did you deal with your little one’s abdominal pain? Leave a comment below.
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