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
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.
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 | 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.