My tummy hurts! Stomach pain in children

stomach painIt’s 24 hours after your teenager finished up a competition for National History Day. Now she’s curled up in a ball whimpering with belly pain. Post adrenaline let down? Ate something wrong for breakfast? Appendicitis? Just as a mom’s mind goes berserk thinking of all the possible causes, a doctor’s does too. There are many organs that live inside a belly, including the stomach, the intestines, the liver, and the bladder, that cause pain. Then there are the organs next to the belly which can cause pain including the lungs and the female reproductive organs. On top of it all, chemical imbalances and emotional issues can cause or exacerbate pain. So, how can one tell if your teen should ignore the pain and go to the showing of Divergent or consult with her pediatrician?

Here are some “Red Flags” of belly pain. Pay close attention to pain associated with any of the following:

  • Pain which wakes your child out of sleep
  • Severe pain – prevents walking, moving, makes kids not want to be touched. Severe pain makes kids unable to jump up and down easily.
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in the stools
  • Refusal to eat/not hungry—We do not mean the refusal to eat brussel sprouts, but rather refusal to eat any food
  • Change in behavior. To gauge severity, it helps to stand back and observe your kid. Block out what he is saying. Instead, watch how she acts. Your child may play with friends, run by you, say “My belly hurts,” and then continue to play. This is not as worrisome as the child who stops playing with friends and goes to lie down by herself on the couch.  School avoidance is also a sign that something is not right. 
  • Pain with a pattern– Perhaps you notice that your child experiences pain after downing milk or ice cream (dairy intolerance), or pain only on school mornings and not weekends (possible bullying at school).

Be aware, young kids often use the phrase “my tummy hurts” for any type of belly discomfort. A child whose belly pain disappears after he eats may mean, “I’m hungry.” New potty trainers may mean,” I need to go potty.” Young kids also use the phrase to mean, “I am nauseous.”

Finally, the most important “red flag” is if your child’s belly pain makes YOUR belly hurt; that is, if your gut tells you that something is wrong with your child, consult with your child’s doctor immediately.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

©2014 Two Peds in a Pod®

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