“My Tummy Hurts!” – Abdominal Pain in Kids: Causes And Treatment

Dec 27, 2022

We can all recall a time when we as children had awful stomach pain or aches. Chances are you were hunched over, gripping your stomach in agony, claiming someone was stabbing your intestines with a knife. Dramatic and exaggerated, but when you’re a kid, everything is theatrical. Some of those incidents were no big deal. Just a minor cramp or nausea from eating too much candy before bed, but other times it may have been serious, so much so that medical attention was needed due to a parasite or appendicitis. Abdominal pain in children can vary from minor to major in the blink of an eye, which is why it is so important to be vigilant of the signs and symptoms.

Causes of Stomach Pain

If your child is experiencing stomach pain, it is most likely due to indigestion, constipation, stress, irritable bowel syndrome, appendicitis, or a stomach bug. These are the most common complaints that a child will have regarding stomach issues and fortunately, over counter drugs or a quick visit to your healthcare provider will help. However, stomach pain is more complicated than you might think. Depending on where the child is feeling the pain, this can change the diagnosis and the severity of the injury.

Around the Belly Button

Stomach pain around the belly button is the most common complaint among children and in most cases, the least significant. The culprit of this discomfort is typically attributed to stress or eating something unagreeable. The best action to take for your child who is struggling with this would be to encourage them to rest, check to see if they need to poop, suggest drinking a glass of water, or offer a distraction of sorts. Reading a soothing story or playing a light-hearted game can take their mind off the pain and before they know it, they’ll forget all about it!

Lower Right Part of the Abdomen

Pain in the lower right side of the abdomen can be much more serious, potentially hinting that your child may have appendicitis. 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 including fever, nausea, vomiting, difficulty passing gas, loss of appetite, constipation, and diarrhea. If you suspect that your child has appendicitis, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Early diagnosis decreases the risk of a ruptured appendix or serious complications.

Lower Left Side of the Abdomen

If your child is complaining about pain on the left side of their stomach, it could be caused by constipation or a more severe condition like pancreatitis. Most of the time, stomach pain on the left side is due to something mild, like constipation. Rarely, it can be a sign of something more serious. Your child’s healthcare provider can work with you to better understand the pain and symptoms your child experiences to ensure they receive an accurate diagnosis.

Upper Right Side of the 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 upper belly, nausea, bloating, burping, and heartburn. It is also worth mentioning that 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.

Most Common Causes of Abdominal Pain

Indigestion

This is a general term that describes discomfort in children’s upper abdomen. Common symptoms include pain or burning in the area between the breastbone and navel or bloating in the upper abdomen. Most of the time, indigestion will go away on its own and is not considered serious. Prepare smaller meals and try a bland diet. Talk with their healthcare provider if the discomfort persists.

Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

This is an infection marked by watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, pain, and nausea or vomiting. Seek medical attention if your child has a fever of 100.4 F or higher, bloody diarrhea, or significant pain or discomfort. The most important thing to do is to stay well-hydrated.

Constipation

Constipated children have infrequent bowel movements or hard, dry stools. They may frequently complain of a stomachache, bloating, or discomfort. Talk with their primary care provider if they don’t want to eat, are losing weight, have bloody stools, or are having repeated episodes of constipation.

Stress or anxiety

When children are stressed or anxious, their bodies release the hormone cortisol into the blood. This can trigger abdominal cramps and discomfort.

Appendicitis

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix. It causes sudden pain that begins around the navel and then moves to the lower right abdomen. The pain worsens if children cough, walk or make other jarring movements. Appendicitis pain typically increases and eventually becomes severe. Appendicitis is a medical emergency, and these children should receive immediate medical attention.

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 stomach becomes sore to the 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 diarrhea.

If you are concerned your child may be developing appendicitis, visit your healthcare provider. An operation is often needed to remove the appendix, although in some cases the problem will settle without surgery.

Intestinal obstruction

Intestinal obstruction is a blockage that prevents food or liquid from passing through children’s small intestines or colon. It could be caused by scar tissue, a twisting or narrowing of the intestine, or if they swallow an object. Common symptoms include abdominal pain that comes and goes and is located around or below the navel, constipation, inability to pass gas, swelling of the abdomen, or vomiting. Seek immediate medical attention if children are suspected to have an intestinal obstruction.

Diagnosis of the Abdominal Pain

Typically, when the problem is obvious there are no tests needed. However, if tests are needed, they may include blood or urine tests, stool samples, or other special tests for further examination. If your child does undergo tests, the healthcare provider should explain the results to you. Some results may take several days to come back, and these results will be sent to your primary care physician.

Stomach pain in children is usually nothing to worry about. But, if your child experiences any of the following symptoms, take your little one to their healthcare provider: diarrhea, pain when urinating, unexplained weight loss, jaundice, blood in stool, and recurrent stomach pain with no clear cause. From there, a medical professional can help you determine how severe the illness is.

Treatment of the Abdominal Pain

Your child’s treatment will depend on what your healthcare provider determines 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. A few general suggestions would be to make sure your child gets plenty of rest and have them drink plenty of clear fluids such as cooled boiled water or juice. Do not push your child to eat if they feel unwell. If they are hungry, have them eat bland food like crackers or bananas and place a hot water bag on their stomach.

If your child doesn’t seem to be getting any better and their symptoms have manifested into more severe signs such as vomiting, blood in urine or stool, painful skin rash, fever, or chills, then you should take your child to Chai Care to have them checked out by our skilled medical professionals.

* Legal disclaimer: The content of this article and the entire Chai Care blog is for educational purposes only; it does NOT constitute medical advice and must not be considered as such. Please consult a medical professional regarding any symptoms or health concerns you or your loved ones may have.

Let’s get you better.

Book an appointment or call one of our locations