Stomach pain in children can have various causes and degrees of seriousness. When a child experiences a stomachache, it’s important for parents to be able to distinguish normal abdominal pain from a serious problem.
There are several reasons kids may experience stomachaches:
Stool may be hard and difficult to pass leading to stomach pains. Poor diet and insufficient water intake are frequent causes. Rectal bleeding, however, without constipation can signal something more serious. Ongoing issues with rectal bleeding without constipation may indicate other medical conditions, like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease (IBS).
Diarrhea is runny, loose bowel movements. It’s often caused by food that upset the stomach, but if diarrhea persists it may be a sign of an infection.
The “stomach flu” is not actually a type of flu but inflammation in the lining of the intestines usually caused by a virus, called gastroenteritis. Symptoms can include diarrhea, stomach pains, vomiting, headache, fever and chills. Most people recover without treatment.
A common childhood condition is gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is a chronic disease that occurs when stomach acid or contents flows back into the food pipe. Symptoms include a burning sensation in the chest, chest pain, difficulty swallowing and dry cough.
Signs of a More Serious Problem
Look out for dehydration. If a child’s mouth looks moist and they’re urinating well, they are hydrating properly. Signs of dehydration can include dry lips, pale skin and listless behavior. If a child is experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, it’s important to continue to give the child fluids, as they are losing more fluids.
Investigate severe pain. A swollen stomach, blood in the stool or associated high fever are all red flags. When any of these symptoms occur, a trip to see the doctor is warranted.
Rule out green bile. If vomiting contains green bile, parents should consult the child’s doctor or visit their local emergency department immediately.
In order to avoid stomachaches, it’s important to keep children hydrated. Kids often forget to drink water, or they dislike the taste. That can be remedied by using calorie-free packets with fruit flavorings or adding a small amount of juice to the water.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet with a good amount of fruit, vegetables and fiber also is vital to keeping their digestive system healthy.
Observing basic hygiene – such as washing hands after using the restroom – helps prevent the spread of infections that can lead to stomachaches.
Unless your child has a serious infection or condition, stomachaches will usually go away with time. However, if your child experiences frequent or persistent abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, talk to your child’s pediatrician about an improved diet or consultation with a gastroenterologist.
Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach has a Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition Center that provides a multi-disciplinary approach to managing nutritional and gastrointestinal conditions in children. To learn more, visit the Gastroenterology & Nutrition Center.