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Stomach pain in kids: When to worry
A pediatric gi doctor explains common causes of stomach pain in children, remedies to help and when to call the doctor.
As many parents know, children and stomach aches seem to go hand in hand. Stomach pain in kids can be caused by a variety of common reasons such as eating too much, needing to go to the bathroom, or anxiety or worry about an upcoming event. However, if your child complains of stomach pain frequently, it can be difficult to know the best ways to help and when to call the doctor.
Megha S. Mehta, M.D. , a pediatric gastroenterologist at Children's Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern, explains when parents should worry about stomach pain and when a little rest and hydration is all your child may need.
What can cause stomach pain in a child?
The most common causes of stomach pain in children include:
- Infection or stomach bug
- Stress or anxiety
- Irritable bowel syndrome or functional abdominal pain
- Appendicitis (causes acute or sudden pain)
Additional stomach pain symptoms can vary based on what's causing your child's stomach to hurt, but may include cramping, diarrhea, gas, bloating, nausea or vomiting. One of the most important symptoms to note is where your child is feeling pain in their stomach.
"One of the first questions we ask children is where their stomach hurts," explains Dr. Mehta. "Location of the pain can help physicians determine what is causing the pain, in addition to other characteristics such as severity of pain, when it occurs, what makes it better or worse and accompanying symptoms."
Stomach pain around the belly button
Stomach pain around or near a child's belly button is usually nothing to worry about. It's one of the most common stomach pain complaints among kids.
"Children often rub their bellies when they hurt and complain about general pain around the belly button," says Dr. Mehta. "This type of stomach pain is typically caused by stress or eating something that didn't quite agree with them."
If your child is complaining about stomach pain near the belly button, you can:
- Encourage them to lay down and rest
- Check to see if they need to poop
- Offer a glass of water
- Try distracting them by reading a book together or playing a quiet game
Stomach pain in the lower right part of the abdomen
Appendicitis is a serious medical emergency that can cause sudden, severe pain in the lower right part of your child's stomach. If your child complains of stomach pain that moves to the lower right side of the belly, watch for other symptoms of appendicitis including:
- Difficulty passing gas
- Loss of appetite
You should contact your child's pediatrician immediately if you suspect your child has appendicitis. Early diagnosis decreases risk of a ruptured appendix or serious complications.
Stomach pain on the left side of the abdomen
If your child is complaining about pain on the left side of their stomach, it could be caused by something as simple as constipation to a more severe condition like pancreatitis . Dr. Mehta reminds parents not to panic just because their child is experiencing pain.
"Most of the time, stomach pain on the left side is caused by something mild, like constipation. Rarely, it can be a sign of something more serious," she says. "Your child's pediatrician can work with you to better understand the pain and symptoms your child experiences to ensure they receive an accurate diagnosis – and more importantly, find relief."
Stomach pain in the upper abdomen
If your child is complaining about pain in their upper abdomen, they may be experiencing indigestion. Telltale signs of indigestion include:
- Pain in the middle of the upper belly
"Indigestion may be the cause, if your child complains about pain in their upper belly, especially if it happens after eating certain foods," says Dr. Mehta.
If your child has pain in the upper right side of their abdomen, this could also be a sign of gallstones . Gallstones are more common in adults than in children, but some children may be more at risk for developing gallstones including children with obesity, children with certain health conditions including sickle cell disease, and children with a family history of gallstone disease.
What can I give my child for stomach pain?
- Has a bowel movement
- Recovers from a stomach virus
There's no specific treatment for an upset stomach, but you can help relieve your child's symptoms. Trusted home remedies for stomach pain in kids include:
- Offering plenty of clear liquids to keep your child hydrated
- Offering ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve pain
- Using a heating pad to ease cramps and pain
- Offering a bland diet, like crackers and soups
- Giving your child stool softeners, like MiraLAX® to ease constipation (see other ways to prevent and treat constipation in kids )
- Mixing a probiotic in your child's water, which may help stop diarrhea
When should I take my child to the doctor for stomach pain?
Stomach pain in children is usually nothing to worry about. But, if your child experiences any of the following symptoms, schedule an appointment with your child's pediatrician to determine the cause of your child's pain:
- Constipation that is becoming frequent
- Recurrent stomach pain with no clear cause
- Blood in stool
- Fever and cough
- Pain when urinating
- Unexplained weight loss
- Looks or acts sick
- Pain that is waking your child up from sleep or is starting to affect their daily lives
Your child's pediatrician can help you determine if you need to seek immediate medical attention.
When to go to the ER for stomach pain in kids
If your child experiences any of the following symptoms with stomach pain, call 911 immediately or take your child to the emergency room (ER):
- Severe pain in the stomach
- Loss of consciousness, fatigue or ill appearing
- Difficulty breathing
- Blood in vomit or green-colored vomit
When kids have stomach aches, it can be hard to pinpoint a cause or if you should be concerned. A #pediatric GI expert from @Childrens addresses when to call the doctor. Click to Tweet
The Children's Health Pediatric Gastroenterology program offers specialized, compassionate care to help treat, manage and improve your child's digestive health. Our team offers minimally invasive diagnostic techniques and the latest advances in care to help your child and family feel their best. When stomach pain in kids becomes a chronic issue, our Chronic Abdominal Pain Clinic offers help and hope.
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abdominal, bowel movements, intestine, nausea, stomach flu, treatment
Abdominal pain in children
Actions for this page.
- Many children with abdominal pain get better in hours or days without special treatment and often no cause can be found.
- If pain or other problems persist, see your doctor.
- Appendicitis is one of the more common reasons your child may need surgery.
On this page
Causes of abdominal pain in children, diagnosis of abdominal pain in children, treatment for abdominal pain in children, taking care of your child with abdominal pain, when to seek urgent medical help for abdominal pain in children, where to get help.
Children often complain of stomach pain. It is one of the most common reasons parents take children to their doctor or the hospital emergency department. Stomach pain can be hard to diagnose. The doctor will ask you questions then examine your child. Sometimes a problem may be quite obvious, so no tests are needed.
Many children with stomach pain get better in hours or days without special treatment and often no cause can be found. Sometimes the cause becomes more obvious with time and treatment can be started. If pain or other problems persist, see your doctor.
There are many health problems that can cause stomach pain for children, including:
- bowel (gut) problems – constipation, colic or irritable bowel
- infections – gastroenteritis, kidney or bladder infections, or infections in other parts of the body like the ear or chest
- food-related problems – too much food, food poisoning or food allergies
- problems outside the abdomen – muscle strain or migraine
- surgical problems – appendicitis, bowel obstruction or intussusception (telescoping of part of the gut)
- period pain – some girls can have pain before their periods start
- poisoning – such as spider bites, eating soap or smoking.
Repeat attacks of stomach pain
Some children suffer repeat attacks of stomach pain, which can be worrying for parents. Often, no health problem can be found. Children may feel stomach pain when they are worried about themselves or people around them. Think about whether there is anything that is upsetting your child at home, school or kindergarten, or with friends. See your local doctor for advice. A referral may be needed to a paediatrician (a doctor who specialises in children).
Appendicitis is one of the more common reasons your child may need surgery. The appendix is a small, dead-end tube leading from a part of the bowel. If this tube gets blocked, it can cause an infection. Appendicitis can happen at any age, but is rare in young children.
The pain often starts in the middle of the tummy and moves down low on the right side. The tummy becomes sore to touch. This is often worse with coughing and walking around. A child with appendicitis often shows signs of being unwell such as fever, refusing food, vomiting or (sometimes) diarrhoea.
If you are concerned your child may be developing appendicitis, visit your local doctor or go to the emergency department of your nearest hospital. An operation is often needed to remove the appendix, although in some cases the problem will settle without surgery.
When a problem is quite obvious, no tests are needed. If tests are needed, they may include:
- blood tests
- stool (poo) sample
- other special tests
- review by a specialist doctor.
If your child does undergo tests, the doctor should explain the results to you. Some results may take a number of days to come back and these results will be sent to your local doctor.
Your child’s treatment will depend on what the doctor thinks is causing their pain. Treatment may be as simple as sending your child home with advice to rest, take fluids and eat a bland diet. Other treatment options include hospital admission and surgery.
General suggestions on easing the pain include:
- Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.
- Help your child drink plenty of clear fluids such as cooled boiled water or juice.
- Do not push your child to eat if they feel unwell.
- If your child is hungry, offer bland food such as crackers, rice, bananas or toast.
- Place a hot water bottle or wheat bag on your child’s tummy or run a warm bath for them. Take care not to scald yourself or your child.
- Give paracetamol if your child is in pain or is miserable. Remember that doses for children are often different to those for adults, so check the packet carefully for the right dose. Avoid giving aspirin.
Go to your local doctor or the emergency department of your nearest hospital straight away if your child has:
- severe or worsening pain or pain that has moved position
- fever or chills
- become pale, sweaty and unwell
- been vomiting for more than 24 hours
- refused to eat or drink
- blood in their vomit or poo
- problems passing urine or is producing less than four wet nappies a day
- skin rash with pain
- any other problem that concerns you.
- Your GP (doctor)
- NURSE-ON-CALL Tel. 1300 606 024 – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
- The emergency department of your nearest hospital
- In an emergency, always call triple zero (000)
- Healthdirect Tel: 1800 022 222 - 24 hours health advice line
- The Gut Foundation Tel. (02) 9382 2749
- Abdominal pain in children , Emergency Department Factsheets, Victorian Government Health Information. More information here .
- Abdominal pain (stomach ache) , The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Australia. More information here .
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The type of pain felt in the abdomen can vary greatly.
Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) and asthma attacks need urgent emergency first aid. In an emergency, always call triple zero (000).
Allergy occurs when the body overreacts to a 'trigger' that is harmless to most people.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that requires urgent medical attention.
Parents and children talk about some of the factors that can cause a child's asthma to flare up.
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Stomach Pain in Kids and Teens
Learn the common causes and home remedies for stomach pain.
“My stomach hurts.” If you have children, chances are you’ve heard this before.
Stomach pain is one of the most common complaints among children and teens. It can range from mild discomfort to severe cramping, burning or nausea. While most cases aren’t serious, it’s helpful to know what can cause stomach pain and when to call a doctor.
Here are some of the most frequent causes of stomach problems in small children and teens:
Gas pain or indigestion is common in kids of all ages. Diet often plays a role. Carbonated drinks, such as soda may upset the stomach, especially if the child drinks through a straw. Spicy foods, beans, citrus and caffeine (including chocolate) may cause gas.
Younger kids may not know what constipation is or that it can lead to stomach pain. If your child complains of stomach pain around the belly button or the left lower side of the abdomen, ask them when they last pooped, or if they’re having problems doing it.
Too much of anything, from pizza and popcorn to Halloween candy, can cause abdominal pain. Kids often eat quickly and don’t realize they’re full until they’ve overdone it. Plus, eating too quickly can contribute to discomfort.
Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and milk products. “In order to digest lactose properly, the body produces an enzyme called lactase,” explains Sangita Bhasin, MD , a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Encinitas. “People who do not have this enzyme have a condition called lactose intolerance. When they consume milk products, they may have symptoms such as abdominal cramps, gas, diarrhea or constipation.”
Milk allergy is a reaction to a protein in milk that may cause cramps. It is not the same as lactose intolerance.
When kids feel stressed or worried, they may feel abdominal pain. “Stomach aches that appear to have no apparent cause may be due to stress, especially if the pain is recurrent. But all the child knows is that their stomach hurts,” says Dr. Bhasin. “When this happens, gently ask the child if they’re worried about something and want to talk about it. There could be problems at school or with friends.”
Bacterial or viral infections can affect the stomach and may be spread between students at school or in common areas. Stomach pain is often the first symptom, usually followed within 24 hours by vomiting and diarrhea.
If your child complains of severe, constant pain in the low right side of the abdomen and even slight movement is painful, appendicitis may be to blame. Appendicitis is more common in older children and teens; it is unusual in children under age 5.
When to call the pediatrician
Most causes of stomach pain don’t require medical care, but do call your child’s doctor right away if any of the following occur:
- Pain on the lower right side is severe and constant, which may indicate appendicitis
- Pain is severe and lasts more than an hour
- Pain is constant and lasts more than two hours
- Your child has a fever and/or is vomiting
- You see blood in your child’s stool
- Your baby is younger than 12 months
“It’s always better to err on the side of caution,” says Dr. Bhasin. “If you’re concerned about your child’s stomach pain, call the doctor.”
Home treatment for tummy aches
Most stomach aches won’t last more than an hour or two, and often you can help your child feel better by trying these tips:
- Have your child lie down and rest.
- Place a warm compress or heating pad on their stomach.
- Gently massage your child’s belly, which can help with gas and indigestion.
- Give small sips of water.
- Check with your doctor before giving any over-the-counter medication. Ibuprofen, for example, can further upset the stomach.
- If indigestion occurs often, keep a food diary and look for links between certain foods and stomach pain.
Finally, if stomach aches are a frequent problem, talk with your pediatrician. You may be able to work together to identify the cause and make changes to help your child feel better.
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- Stomach Aches
9 All-Natural Tummy Ache Remedies
Stomach aches are common in kids—especially in those ages 4 to 8 years old—and the main causes are typically diet, stress, and growing pains. the next time your kid complains of an upset tummy, consider these nine natural home remedies., sip chamomile tea.
Give your child a cup of chamomile tea (one cup of water per teabag), suggests Andrew Weil, M.D., a leader in the field of integrative medicine, whose books include Spontaneous Healing . "Chamomile tea is an excellent home remedy for uncomplicated stomach upsets because it possesses...anti-inflammatory and sedative properties, all of which may contribute to a lessening of abdominal discomfort," says Dr. Weil. Chamomile relaxes the muscle of the upper digestive tract, easing the contractions that move food through the stomach and small intestines; this will relieve spasms and tummy cramps.
- Is My Kid Contagious? When They Should Stay Home
It's okay to give your child soda when their stomach is hurting, as long as the soda is ginger ale, but fresh ginger tea is even better because it's chock-full of ginger (and it's healthier). Ginger's main ingredient is gingerol, a strong antioxidant that helps decrease the production of free radicals and their potential damage to the body; it also decreases nausea and discomfort. Plus, ginger's anti-inflammatory properties increase digestive juices and neutralize stomach acids.
Reach for Peppermint
Peppermint tea is also refreshing and can ease the pain of a tummy ache. "Peppermint has been shown to have a calming effect on the stomach muscles," says William Sears, M.D. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, peppermint has the ability to improve the flow of bile, which the body uses for digestion. If your child refuses to drink tea, a peppermint candy, while not as potent, may settle their stomach (just don't give these candies to babies or young children, as they can be choking hazards ).
Placing a hot water bottle or heating pad on your little one's tummy while they're sitting or lying down should relieve some of the pain, says Robyn Strosaker, M.D., a pediatrician at the Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland. The reason: "Heat increases the blood flow to the skin surface, which can diminish the perception of pain coming from deeper in the abdomen," she explains.
- 17 Ways to Soothe Baby's Upset Stomach
Rub the Foot, Using Reflexology
"There are thousands of nerves in the feet and hands that, when specific techniques are applied, can cause the entire body to relax and feel calmer," says Laura Norman, a reflexology practitioner and author of Feet First: A Guide to Food Reflexology . The tummy region corresponds with the center arch of the left foot. Using a reflexology technique, hold your child's left foot with the palm of your right hand, and with your left hand under the ball of the foot, apply a steady, even pressure with your thumb.
Use a forward, caterpillar-like motion (press one spot, move a little forward, and repeat) to go across the foot. Switch hands and repeat from right to left, with the thumb of your right hand, and continue until you cover the center of the arch. "The child will respond positively to their mom's loving touch, the parent feels wonderful for being able to help their child, and the parent-child connection is strengthened," Norman adds.
Serve Bland Foods
If your child still has an appetite despite the tummy ache, let them eat small amounts of plain foods, like toast, pasta, oatmeal, yogurt, rice, and applesauce. Avoid sauces, condiments, or seasonings. "Bland foods are less irritating to the stomach and more easily digested than spicy or greasy foods," says Dr. Strosaker. "These foods are not only less likely to induce vomiting, but they will help the gastrointestinal (GI) tract return to normal function more quickly."
- 4 Reasons Your Kid Is Bloated and How to Help
Snack on Yogurt
Yogurt is effective for basic tummy cramps, and it's a popular healing food for diarrhea , Dr. Sears says. "Normally, 'good' bacteria live in your intestines that help with digestion," he explains. "If you have an intestinal virus or diarrhea, good bacteria can get flushed out, which can prolong the duration of the symptoms." Eating yogurt with live cultures (or mixing it with a powdered supplement like Culturelle) provides the active bacteria that can help get digestion back to normal.
Follow the CRAP Diet
Is your child's tummy hurting because of constipation? Michael Roizen, M.D., co-author of YOU: Raising Your Child , along with his colleagues Ellen Rome, M.D., and Mehmet Oz, M.D., came up with an easy (and memorable!) acronym to remember how to help your kid. "Appropriately named the CRAP diet, it stands for fruits with fiber that can act to naturally 'loosen things up': c herries, r aisins, a pricots, and p runes," says Dr. Roizen. If your school-age child is getting less than five servings of fruit a day, give them a half cup of any of these fruits, three to five times a day. "For kids under four, it's smart to puree these foods to decrease the risk of choking," he adds. Toddlers should be eating a half cup.
Encourage Outdoor Activities
If your child is suffering from constipation , Dr. Roizen says it's the perfect time to hit the playground. "Physical activity can aid movement through the GI tract, whereas lying in bed can actually induce constipation," he explains. "And while this treatment is less scientific-mechanism-based than others, it works!" Acceptable activities include walking, moderate running, playing outside, or playing an "active" video game. Advise your child to hold off on the more "tummy turning" activities, such as twirling, hanging on the monkey bars, and doing cartwheels.
- Rotavirus and Stomach Flu: Everything You Need to Know
Know When to Seek Help
Natural remedies for stomach aches can work wonders, but it's necessary to know when to call the doctor. Deb Lonzer, M.D., chair of the department of regional pediatrics for the Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital, says that pain around the belly button is often the least concern. "Loss of appetite is more serious and would concern me after a few days," she adds. "Constipation should be addressed within a week if a change in diet is not helping." As a general rule, if your child is vomiting, has a fever, has blood in their stool, is not thriving, or looks worn-out all the time, it's best to take them to the pediatrician .
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- First Aid & Emergencies
Abdominal Pain in Children Treatment
Call 911 now if: .
- The child is not moving or is too weak to stand.
1. Have Your Child Rest
- Avoid activity, especially after eating.
- Provide clear fluids to sip, such as water, broth, or fruit juice diluted with water.
- Serve bland foods, such as saltine crackers, plain bread, dry toast, rice, gelatin, or applesauce.
- Avoid spicy or greasy foods and caffeinated or carbonated drinks until 48 hours after all symptoms have gone away.
- Encourage the child to have a bowel movement .
- Ask your child’s doctor before giving any medicine for abdominal pain . Drugs can mask or worsen the pain.
3. When to Call a Doctor
Call your child’s doctor immediately if your child has any of the following:
- Persistent pain on the right side of the abdomen , which could be an appendicitis
- Pain confined to one part of the abdomen
- Severe or rapidly worsening abdominal pain or pain that doesn’t go away within 24 hours
- Pain or tenderness when you press on the belly
- A swollen abdomen or an abdomen that is rigid to the touch
- Pain in the groin, or pain or swelling in a testicle
- Unexplained fever
- Lots of vomiting or diarrhea
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Blood in the stool or vomit
- A recent abdominal injury
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Abdominal Pain in Children: Care Instructions
Abdominal (belly) pain has many possible causes. Some are not serious and get better on their own in a few days. Others need more testing and treatment. If your child's belly pain continues or gets worse, your child may need more tests to find out what is wrong.
Most cases of belly pain in children are caused by minor problems, such as stomach flu infection or constipation. Home treatment often is all that is needed to relieve them.
Your doctor may have recommended a follow-up visit in the next 8 to 12 hours. Do not ignore new symptoms, such as fever, nausea and vomiting, urination problems, or pain that gets worse. These may be signs of a more serious problem. If your child has belly pain and is very young or uses a different way to communicate (besides talking), they may show different signs such as:
- Holding their knees close to their chest and not wanting to be moved.
- Sleeping longer.
- Changes to their breathing patterns.
- Being less active and laying down more than usual.
The doctor has checked your child carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away .
Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line ( 811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.
- How can you care for your child at home?
- Make sure your child rests.
- Give your child lots of fluids a little at a time. This is very important if your child is vomiting or has diarrhea. Give your child sips of water or drinks such as Pedialyte or Gastrolyte. These drinks contain a mix of salt, sugar, and minerals. You can buy them at drugstores or grocery stores. You can give these drinks or diluted apple juice as long as your child is throwing up or has diarrhea.
- Start to offer small amounts of food when your child feels like eating.
- Have your child take medicines exactly as directed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine.
- Do not give your child aspirin, due to the risk of Reye syndrome. If you are giving your child ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve) for pain and they develop an upset stomach or become dehydrated, talk to your doctor.
- When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
- Your child's stools are maroon or very bloody.
Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:
- Your child has new belly pain or his or her pain gets worse.
- Your child's pain becomes focused in one area of his or her belly.
- Your child has a new or higher fever.
- Your child's stools are black and look like tar or have streaks of blood.
- Your child has new or worse diarrhea or vomiting.
- Your child vomits blood or what looks like black coffee grounds.
- Pain when he or she urinates.
- Urinating more often than usual.
- Blood in his or her urine.
Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- Your child does not get better as expected.
- Where can you learn more?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter Q757 in the search box to learn more about "Abdominal Pain in Children: Care Instructions".
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Abdominal pain - children under age 12
Almost all children have abdominal pain at one time or another. Abdominal pain is pain in the stomach or belly area. It can be anywhere between the chest and groin.
Most of the time, it is not caused by a serious medical problem. But sometimes abdominal pain can be a sign of something serious. Learn when you should seek medical care right away for your child with abdominal pain.
When your child complains of abdominal pain, see if they can describe it to you. Here are different kinds of pain:
- Generalized pain or pain over more than half of the belly. Your child can have this kind of pain when they have a stomach virus, indigestion, gas, or when they become constipated.
- Cramp-like pain is likely to be due to gas and bloating. It is often followed by diarrhea. It is usually not serious.
- Colicky pain is pain that comes in waves, usually starts and ends suddenly, and is often severe.
- Localized pain is pain in only one area of the belly. Your child may be having problems with their appendix, gallbladder, a hernia (twisted bowel), ovary, testicles, or stomach (ulcers).
If you have an infant or toddler, your child depends on you seeing that they are in pain. Suspect abdominal pain if your child is:
- More fussy than usual
- Drawing their legs up toward the belly
- Eating poorly
Your child could have abdominal pain for many reasons. It can be hard to know what is going on when your child has abdominal pain. Most of the time, there is nothing seriously wrong. But sometimes, it can be a sign that there is something serious and your child needs medical care.
Your child most likely is having abdominal pain from something that is not life threatening. For example, your child may have:
- Air swallowing
- Abdominal migraine
- Food allergy or intolerance
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Ingesting grass or plants
- Stomach flu or food poisoning
- Strep throat or mononucleosis ("mono")
- Pain caused by anxiety or depression
Your child may have something more serious if the pain does not get better in 24 hours, gets worse or gets more frequent. Abdominal pain can be a sign of:
- Accidental poisoning
- Hernia or other bowel twisting, blockage or obstruction
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis)
- Intussusception, caused by part of the intestine being pulled inward into itself
- Sickle cell disease crisis
- Stomach ulcer
- Swallowed foreign body, especially coins or other solid objects
- Torsion (twisting) of the ovary
- Torsion (twisting) of the testicle
- Tumor or cancer
- Unusual inherited metabolic disorders (such as abnormal accumulation of protein and sugar breakdown products)
- Urinary tract infection
Most of the time, you can use home care remedies and wait for your child to get better. If you are worried or your child's pain is getting worse, or the pain lasts longer than 24 hours, call your health care provider.
Have your child lie quietly to see if the abdominal pain goes away.
Offer sips of water or other clear fluids.
Suggest that your child try to pass stool.
Avoid solid foods for a few hours. Then try small amounts of mild foods such as rice, applesauce, or crackers.
Do not give your child foods or drinks that are irritating to the stomach. Avoid:
- Carbonated beverages
- Dairy products
- Fried or greasy foods
- High-fat foods
- Tomato products
Do not give aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or similar medicines without first asking your child's provider.
To prevent many types of abdominal pain:
- Avoid fatty or greasy foods.
- Drink plenty of water each day.
- Eat small meals more often.
- Exercise regularly.
- Limit foods that produce gas.
- Make sure that meals are well-balanced and high in fiber. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Keep all cleaning supplies and hazardous materials in their original containers.
- Store these dangerous items where infants and children cannot reach them.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if the abdominal pain does not go away in 24 hours.
Seek medical help right away or call your local emergency number (such as 911) if your child:
- Is a baby younger than 3 months and has diarrhea or vomiting
- Is currently being treated for cancer
- Is unable to pass stool, especially if the child is also vomiting
- Is vomiting blood or has blood in the stool (especially if the blood is maroon or a dark, tarry black color)
- Has sudden, sharp abdominal pain
- Has a rigid, hard belly
- Has had a recent injury to the abdomen
- Is having trouble breathing
Call your provider if your child has:
- Abdominal pain that lasts 1 week or longer, even if it comes and goes.
- Abdominal pain that does not improve in 24 hours. Call if it is getting more severe and frequent, or if your child is nauseous and vomiting with it.
- A burning sensation during urination.
- Diarrhea for more than 2 days.
- Vomiting for more than 12 hours.
- Fever over 100.4°F (38°C).
- Poor appetite for more than 2 days.
- Unexplained weight loss.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Talk to the provider about the location of the pain and its time pattern. Let the provider know if there are other symptoms like fever, fatigue, general ill feeling, change in behavior, nausea, vomiting, or changes in stool.
Your provider may ask the questions about the abdominal pain:
- What part of the stomach hurts? All over? Lower or upper? Right, left, or middle? Around the navel?
- Is the pain sharp or cramping, constant or comes and goes, or changes in intensity over minutes?
- Does the pain wake your child up at night?
- Has your child had similar pain in the past? How long has each episode lasted? How often has it occurred?
- Is the pain getting more severe?
- Does the pain get worse after eating or drinking? After eating greasy foods, milk products, or carbonated drinks? Has your child started eating something new?
- Does the pain get better after eating or having a bowel movement?
- Does the pain get worse after stress?
- Has there been a recent injury?
- What other symptoms are occurring at the same time?
During the physical examination, the provider will test to see if the pain is in a single area (point tenderness) or whether it is spread out.
They may do some tests to check on the cause of the pain. The tests may include:
- Blood, urine, and stool tests
- CT (computerized tomography, or advanced imaging) scan
- Ultrasound (sound wave examination) of the abdomen
- X-rays of the abdomen and chest
Stomach pain in children; Pain - abdomen - children; Abdominal cramps in children; Belly ache in children
Maqbool A, Liacouras CA. Major symptoms and signs of digestive tract disorders. In: Kliegman RM, St Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics . 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 332.
Miranda A. Abdominal pain. In: Kliegman RM, Lye PS, Bordini BJ, Toth H, Basel D, eds. Nelson Pediatric Symptom-Based Diagnosis . Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 10.
Seller Rh, Symons AB. Abdominal pain in children. In: Seller RH, Symons AB, eds. Differential Diagnosis of Common Complaints . 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 2.
Smith KA. Abdominal pain. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice . 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 24.
Review Date 7/15/2021
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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Abdominal Pain in Children
What is abdominal pain.
Abdominal pain is discomfort or pain located anywhere between the chest and the pelvis. Every child will have an upset stomach at some point and most times, it’s nothing serious. Children with stomach pain typically return to overall good health and grow well.
Abdominal pain that continues and does not resolve with usual therapeutic treatments is functional abdominal pain .
For mild abdominal pain, you can typically wait for your child to get better with home care remedies. You should call your doctor if your child has:
- stomach pain that lasts more than a week, even if it comes and goes
- stomach pain that gets more severe and frequent, or makes the child nauseous or vomit with pain
- stomach pain that does not improve in 24 hours
- a burning feeling during urination
- diarrhea for more than two days
- vomiting for more than 12 hours
- fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
- poor appetite for more than two days
- unexplained weight loss
In some cases, abdominal pain is the sign of something more serious. You should seek medical help immediately if your child:
- is a baby younger than 3 months and has diarrhea or vomiting
- is unable to pass stool, especially if the child is also vomiting
- is vomiting blood or has blood in the stool (especially if the blood is maroon or dark, tarry black)
- has sudden, sharp abdominal pain
- has a rigid, hard belly
- has had a recent injury to the abdomen
- is having trouble breathing
- is currently being treated for cancer
Abdominal Pain in Children | Symptoms & Causes
What are the symptoms of abdominal pain.
Abdominal pain can be accompanied by symptoms like:
- excessive gas or bowel movements
What causes abdominal pain in children?
The gastrointestinal tract is a complicated system of nerves and muscles that pushes food through the digestive process. Some children's nerves are very sensitive and feel pain in response to even normal intestinal activities.
The most likely cause of stomach pain is not eating enough, not going to the bathroom, or a combination of the two. In some cases, a specific problem such as constipation, heartburn, or a food allergy causes abdominal pain. In other cases, the cause may not be so clear.
An infection, stress, or lack of sleep may make the intestinal nerves more sensitive to pain. In some cases, the problem may be genetic, which means it "runs in the family" and other family members have a similar history of the problem.
Abdominal Pain in Children | Diagnosis & Treatments
How is abdominal pain diagnosed.
A clinician will take a history of the child’s abdominal pain, how and when it started, the location and type of pain, and how it has progressed over time. If the child has any allergies or a history of food intolerances, parents should let the clinical team know.
The child’s pediatrician may order tests of the child’s blood, urine, and stool to rule out specific conditions associated with abdominal pain. If the child's medical history, exam, or lab tests raise further questions, more in-depth tests, such as an x-ray or endoscopy , may be necessary.
How is abdominal pain in children treated?
Once they’ve diagnosed the source of the pain, the care team will create a treatment plan. Depending on the root cause, treatment may include dietary changes, medication, or behavioral approaches to address underlying anxiety or depression . With the right treatment, most children with abdominal pain continue to grow well and gain weight.
How we care for abdominal pain in children
Our Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition works with parents and children to relieve many kinds abdominal pain and provides access to more specialized gastroenterology services than any other hospital. If your child needs specialized care, our expertly trained team will work with your family and each other to develop an individualized treatment plan.
Abdominal Pain in Children | Programs & Services
Departments, gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition.
The Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition offers care for children with GI, liver, and nutritional problems.
Learn more about Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
Functional Abdominal Pain Program
The Functional Abdominal Pain Program addresses chronic pain along with other related issues.
Learn more about Functional Abdominal Pain Program
Abdominal Pain in Children | Contact Us
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In this section
Abdominal pain is pain or cramping anywhere in the abdomen (tummy, belly or stomach). Children often complain of abdominal pain. It is one of the most common reasons children see a doctor. Most cases of abdominal pain are not serious and children often get better by themselves.
Signs and symptoms of abdominal pain
Abdominal pain can happen suddenly or develop slowly. Children often have other symptoms that are associated with the cause of the abdominal pain, such as:
What causes abdominal pain?
There are many things that can cause abdominal pain.
- Bowel (gut) problems – such as constipation or irritable bowel.
- Infections – such as gastroenteritis (which causes vomiting and diarrhoea/runny poo) or urine infections.
- Mesenteric adenitis – the lymph nodes in the abdomen commonly enlarge due to viral infections.
- Problems that may require surgery – such as appendicitis or a bowel obstruction.
- Period pain – monthly pain can occur before or during a menstrual period.
- Food related – too much food, food poisoning or food allergies and intolerances.
- Some children get abdominal pain as a result of stress or anxiety.
- Sometimes there is no identifiable cause for the abdominal pain.
The causes of abdominal pain can be hard to determine. Sometimes the cause becomes more obvious with time, and then doctors can work out the best treatment.
Care at home
Here are some general ways to ease your child’s pain:
- Help your child drink their usual amount of fluids. Getting your child to drink is important as it prevents dehydration (loss of water). See our fact sheet Dehydration .
- If your child is hungry, let them eat what they want or offer bland foods such as crackers, rice, bananas or toast. Do not force your child to eat if they feel unwell. They will start eating again when they feel better.
- Encourage sitting on the toilet. Sometimes doing a poo helps to ease the pain.
- Rubbing a child’s tummy or having a distraction, such as reading a book, can sometimes ease the pain.
- Give paracetamol or ibuprofen if your child is in pain or is miserable. See our fact sheet Pain relief for children . If ibuprofen causes a stomach upset, offer your child some food or milk.
When to see a doctor
Many children with abdominal pain get better quickly without any treatment and there is no need to see a doctor. If your child’s pain or problems persist for more than 24 hours, or you are worried about your child, take them to your GP.
Take your child to the GP or hospital as soon as possible if your child:
- has severe pain (despite pain medication) or the pain has moved
- has pain that returns frequently and regularly
- does not want to move
- has a fever (temperature over 38 degrees)
- is pale, sweaty, lethargic (hard to wake) and unwell
- is refusing to drink fluids
- is vomiting for more than 24 hours and not keeping fluids down, or their vomit is green in colour
- has blood in their vomit or faeces (poo)
- has problems passing urine (doing a wee)
- is a baby, and has less than four wet nappies a day
- has pain or lumps in their groin
- has a skin rash which is sore or painful
- has had a recent injury (for example, falling onto bike handlebars).
Treatment for abdominal pain
Treatment may be as simple as going home to rest, drink fluids and eat a bland diet. At other times, your child may be admitted to hospital or may need an operation (surgery).
Sometimes tests are needed to help work out the cause of the pain. These may include:
- blood tests
- a urine test
- a stool (poo) sample
- X-rays of the abdomen
Some results can take a number of days. Your GP will receive a letter advising them how to obtain the test results, or a hospital appointment will be made for you to return to get the test results.
Repeated attacks of abdominal pain
Some children get repeated attacks of abdominal pain, which can be very worrying for parents. Often no health problem can be found. Children may have abdominal pain when they are worried about themselves or people around them.
Think about whether there is anything that is upsetting your child at home, at school, kindergarten or with friends. See your GP for advice. Your child may need a referral to a paediatrician, gastroenterologist (a doctor who specialises in stomach problems) or psychologist.
Key points to remember
- Many children get abdominal pain and most get better by themselves.
- Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Often no cause can be found, and sometimes a cause becomes more obvious with time.
- If your child has abdominal pain and looks unwell, take your child to your GP or local hospital as soon as possible.
For more information
- See your GP
- Kids Health Info fact sheet: Pain relief for children
- Kids Health Info fact sheet: Constipation
- Kids Health Info fact sheet: Gastroenteritis
- Kids Health Info fact sheet: Appendicitis
- Kids Health Info fact sheet: Lactose intolerance
- Kids Health Info fact sheet: Dehydration
Common questions our doctors are asked
How can I tell if my child has appendicitis?
Appendicitis can be difficult for doctors to diagnose, but a sign that your child may have appendicitis is that they have severe pain starting around their belly button and moving to the right side of their abdomen. Most children with appendicitis will be very reluctant to move. See your GP if you are worried.
My child has been diagnosed with mesenteric adenitis. What does this mean?
Mesenteric adenitis occurs when the lymph nodes in the abdomen enlarge in response to an infection – most commonly a viral infection. This results in stomach pain. Mesenteric adenitis is diagnosed clinically (without the need for blood tests or imaging). It is important that children who are diagnosed with mesenteric adenitis are reviewed to determine if it is developing into appendicitis.
Why is it so difficult to work out the cause of my child's ongoing stomach aches?
Stomach aches are difficult to diagnose in all ages. Children differ in their ability to describe the type, severity and location of their pain, which can make this process even harder. Many problems from the chest down to the groin may be interpreted by children as stomach aches, making it very difficult to find out the true cause. Your child's doctor will examine and investigate your child in order to rule out anything serious, while trying to find the underlying cause.
The doctor says my child has abdominal migraine. What is this?
As the name suggests, abdominal migraine is a migraine experienced in the abdomen instead of the head. A child with abdominal migraine will often have tummy pain along with nausea/vomiting, loss of appetite and pale skin. There is no headache involved and the child is well between episodes. There is still quite a lot that is unknown about abdominal migraine, but the risk factors and triggers are thought to be similar to traditional migraines (e.g. having a family member with migraines, being stressed or overtired, chemicals in food). See our fact sheet Migraine headache .
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Emergency department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed May 2018.
This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.
Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au .
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.
Offering plenty of clear liquids to keep your child hydrated · Offering ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve pain · Using a heating pad to ease
Taking care of your child with abdominal pain · Make sure your child gets plenty of rest. · Help your child drink plenty of clear fluids such as cooled boiled
Home treatment for tummy aches · Have your child lie down and rest. · Place a warm compress or heating pad on their stomach. · Gently massage your
Stomach aches are common in kids—especially in those ages 4 to 8 years old—and the main causes are typically diet, stress, and growing pains.
Treating Symptoms of Your Child's Stomachache · Have the child lie down and rest. · Don't give the child fluids for about 2 hours after the last vomiting episode.
Call 911 NOW if: · Provide clear fluids to sip, such as water, broth, or fruit juice diluted with water. · Serve bland foods, such as saltine crackers, plain
Give your child sips of water or drinks such as Pedialyte or Gastrolyte. These drinks contain a mix of salt, sugar, and minerals. You can buy them at drugstores
Home Care · Avoid fatty or greasy foods. · Drink plenty of water each day. · Eat small meals more often. · Exercise regularly. · Limit foods that
The most likely cause of stomach pain is not eating enough, not going to the bathroom, or a combination of the two. In some cases, a specific problem such as
Many children with abdominal pain get better quickly without any treatment and there is no need to see a doctor. If your child's pain or problems persist for