Abdominal pain, or stomachache, affects almost all children at some point during childhood. There are many possible causes of abdominal pain. Pain can be a sign of infection, constipation, acid reflux, or a serious medical condition. Often, abdominal pain is unrelated to a medical problem and simply a symptom triggered by stress or anxiety (which does not mean that it doesn’t truly hurt).
What is abdominal pain like for my child?
Abdominal pain has many different characteristics. The pain may be acute (start suddenly) or chronic (present for a period of weeks to months). It may be dull, sharp, cramping, or burning. Each type of pain and its location in the belly provides clues about the specific cause. That’s why it’s important to know more about your child’s pain as it can help in making a diagnosis. Write down the things that make your child’s pain worse or better, how long the pain lasts, other problems at the time of pain (vomiting, diarrhea, etc.). If the pain has been going on for a while, keep a diary of your child’s pain for one week and bring it to your appointment. This will help your child’s health care provider figure out what’s going on.
When should I take my child to the doctor for a stomachache?
It’s very important to know when to seek medical advice. Although most childhood abdominal pain is mild and not dangerous, there are causes of pain that may be serious and require immediate medical attention. Some alarming signs and symptoms that should be evaluated by your child’s health care provider include (but are not limited to):
- weight loss or slowed growth rate
- frequent vomiting
- chronic severe diarrhea
- blood in the stools
- persistent pain on the right side of abdomen
- unexplained fever
- waking up at night due to pain
If your child is experiencing stomachaches, follow these guidelines about how to take care of your him or her and when to call your doctor:
- Digestive care and pediatric gastroenterology (C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital)
- Children’s Digestive Health Information for Kids and Parents (North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition)
- Abdominal pain in children (American Academy of Pediatrics)
- Talking About GI Disorders (International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders)
Updated/reviewed by Jeanne Seyfried, MD
Updated November 2017