Children often complain of stomach (abdominal) pain, causing it to be one of the most common reasons for a parent to take their child to a healthcare professional. In many cases, children with stomach pain get better within hours or days without special treatment and no obvious cause. Sometimes the cause can be clear and treatment can begin. If the pain or other symptoms persist, make an appointment with your doctor or healthcare provider.
Possible causes of abdominal pain in children range from trivial to very serious and in some cases, life threatening even though the child may not complain or show any extreme symptoms. It can be difficult to understand a child’s symptoms; parents and carers face the tough decision of whether a complaint requires emergency care or not.
Signs and Symptoms
Abdominal pain can occur suddenly or develop over time. Children often experience other symptoms alongside abdominal pain, such as:
A parent or caregiver can usually tell when a child is experiencing abdominal pain. Babies and toddlers often react differently to pain, as older children can usually explain how they feel. Young toddlers and babies may cry, show pained facial expressions, curl up and become fussy. Older children will often try to explain how they feel. They may be able to point to the area and describe how severe the pain is.
Symptoms of abdominal pain in children that doctors worry about include:
To know when the pain is severe you will notice that your child cannot be distracted and is crying or showing signs that they are extremely uncomfortable.
Blood in the stool
Most of the time, blood in the stool will be a sign of constipation, which can be easily treated and is rarely serious. However, a bad stomach ache with blood in the stool may be a sign of an infection, inflammatory bowel disease or other intestinal problems.
Similar to blood in the stool, vomiting blood is not always a sign of something serious. Children who have nosebleeds, are bleeding from a lost tooth or vomiting frequently can sometimes vomit blood.
Discoloured/ green vomit
Green vomit may be a sign of a blocked intestine. In some cases, vomit can be a yellow-green colour when everything else has been vomited up. However, abdominal pain and green vomit should never be ignored.
Swollen face, dizziness, hives or pale complexion
Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reactions and can cause abdominal pain and vomiting. If you think your child is showing these symptoms, call for emergency help immediately.
Stomach pain on the right lower side of the stomach
This may be a sign of appendicitis. Initially, the pain is usually located on the left hand side around the belly button, and then moves to the lower right hand side of the stomach. Constipation and period pain can also be experienced in the same area.
A bad cough and fever
In some cases, pneumonia can cause abdominal pain. Many viruses can cause a cough and a stomach ache; however, if the symptoms are particularly bad and are getting worse, or if the child appears to be breathing quicker than usual, seek medical advice.
Pain when urinating
A urinary tract infection can sometimes cause abdominal pain.
High fever or being sleepier than usual
Serious infections and low blood pressure or blood loss may cause abdominal pain and make a child very sleepy. Extra sleepiness and high fevers should always be checked out, especially if it is coupled with a stomach ache.
Children losing a little bit of weight from diarrhoea or vomiting is common, and they usually gain it back once they are feeling better. However, if a child is experiencing abdominal pain and progressively losing weight, you should contact your doctor or healthcare advisor.
Abdominal pain has many different causes and symptoms vary from child to child. However, if your child is experiencing none of the above, it is less likely to be something serious. Try rest, a bland diet (or extra fibre if your child is constipated) and fluids. If your child is experiencing recurrent stomach aches it is a good idea to keep a diary of the pain, along with details such as what they have eaten that day, what their stool was like and their behaviour. This can help the doctor make a diagnosis and discuss treatment options with you.
Cause of Abdominal Pain
The cause of abdominal pain in children can be hard to define. Sometimes the cause becomes more obvious over time, which allows the doctors to work out the best treatment. There are a number of health problems that can cause stomach pain in children, including:
- Bowel problems such as colic or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Infections such as gastroenteritis or bladder infections
- Food related issues such as food poisoning, food intolerances or eating excessively
- Problems outside the abdomen such as muscle strain, earache or a migraine
- Complications resulting from surgery, such as appendicitis
- Period pain that occur before, during or after a menstrual period
- Poisoning. This can range from simple issues such as eating soap or a spider bite, to more serious problems such as an overdose of medication.
- Stress or anxiety can sometimes cause abdominal pain
In some cases, there is no identifiable cause for the abdominal pain. Some children suffer repeat attacks of stomach pain, which can be worrying for parents. In most cases, this does not mean it is anything sinister. If you are worried, make an appointment with your doctor.
Abdominal pain in children can be hard to diagnose. Although many cases of abdominal pain are not serious, some require rapid diagnosis and treatment. In most cases, abdominal pain is diagnosed through a physical examination and medical history. Age is a key factor in diagnosis as conditions vary greatly over the paediatric age spectrum. Sometimes tests are required to help diagnose the pain. These include:
If your child undergoes tests, the doctor will receive the results and discuss them with you. The results may take a few days to come back.
Until recently, doctors did not offer pain relievers to children with severe abdominal pain once a diagnosis had been made, as the pain reliever may have disguised important symptoms. However, pain relievers are sometimes given in low doses now, while further tests are in progress.
Your child’s treatment will depend on what the doctor thinks is causing their pain. Treatment options include hospital admission and surgery, as well as simple steps such as sending your child home to rest, drinking plenty of fluids and eating a bland diet.
If you are concerned with your child’s abdominal pain, speak to your doctor for a referral to One Ashford Hospital. Our Paediatric Consultants are highly experienced in diagnosing and treating babies and children who are struggling with abdominal pain, and our medical team and paediatric nursing staff are here to offer support in a caring environment at all times.
To make an appointment to see a Consultant Paediatric Consultant, please contact the reservations team on 01233 364 036 or email us here.
One Ashford Hospital is located in Kent and is ideal for private, insured and NHS patients located in Ashford, Dover, Canterbury, Folkestone, Maidstone and all nearby areas.