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Stomach Pains in Children

Stomach Pains in Children

Stomach pains are the most common complaint in children. Here is a likely scenario: Your little angel wakes up from sleep at night with stomach pains and hugs a pillow tightly. She feels better and goes back to sleep. In the morning she still has the pain. "Ouch, my stomach hurts!" she tells mom or dad.

Questions run through your mind: Did she vomit? Was it difficult for her to pass motion recently? Was the motion watery? Is there pain anywhere else? How bad is the pain? Is she worried about anything at school? These questions are important because there are many causes of the pain, and the answer will most likely point to the possible cause of the problem.

What is abdominal pain, what is the cause, and what can be done to make it better? Read on to find out!

A pain in your “stomach” may be an actual problem of the stomach, but may also be in other parts too. Besides the stomach, the abdomen is the entire area from the chest to the hips. Inside there is the stomach, intestines, appendix, liver, spleen, kidneys, bladder, pancreas, gallbladder, and adrenal glands. A girl’s abdomen also includes uterus and ovaries. All of these organs are held together inside by a bag-like layer called your peritoneum and protected by three layers of muscles. 

Types of Belly Problems

A child might feel abdominal pain for many reasons. Some of the common ones include:

  • Constipation is one of the most common reasons. Things to look out for are: a long time since the child last had bowel movement, hard bowel movement or if bowel movement is painful. Any of these are signs of constipation.
  • Diarrhoea is when the bowel movement is watery or the child needs to have bowel movement more times than usual. It is usually caused by an infection of the intestines. Having such an infection will cause abdominal pain and even vomiting. 
  • Food can be the cause of abdominal pain. It can happen in some children because of eating too much of certain foods, allergy to certain food, food that was too spicy or greasy, or food that is spoilt. The pain is a message to you that your body has difficulty digesting this food. For example, children allergic to certain cow’s milk may have a stomach pain after drinking it because the body cannot handle the proteins found in it.
  • Appendicitis is a dangerous condition and needs to be treated quickly. The pain usually starts near the umbilicus and moves to the lower right side of the abdomen. The pain usually becomes worse with time. Children with appendicitis will have fever, and some even vomiting and loss of appetite. 
  • An infection of other parts of the body can also cause abdominal pain. A sore throat, chest infection, or ear infection can give a child abdominal pain as well. A child with urinary tract infection can have abdominal pain that is quite severe.
  • Stress is often under-estimated in children. Children that are worried or stressed about school work or an up-coming exam can experience abdominal pain.


Stomach Pains Caused by Stress

After a thorough check-up and if there is still no explanation for the pains, it is possible the pain in the abdomen is really from the mind. A child that is under a lot of stress can experience pain in the abdomen and this pain is very real to the child, and not imagined as some adults might think. 

Children can be worried about many things. Could it be a difficult assignment or an up-coming exam? Is there bullying or a very fierce teacher at school? Perhaps frequent conflicts at home between the adults? The most helpful for these children is to give encouragement to discuss the things that worry them. Talking about the problems allows a solution to be found rather than keeping it all in the stomach. When the child is no longer stressed about the problem, the stomach pain may just disappear.   

A Visit to the Doctor

It is very important to know when to consult a doctor whenever your child has abdominal pain. Although most abdominal pain in children is not life threatening, there are causes of pain that may be dangerous and require immediate medical attention. Some of the symptoms and signs accompanying abdominal pain which may require further medical diagnosis and treatment include:

  1. continuous pain on the right side of the abdomen;
  2. weight loss or slower weight gain;
  3. unexplained persistent fever;
  4. excessive vomiting;
  5. severe diarrhoea;
  6. blood in stool; and
  7. family history of inflammatory bowel disease.

Your child's doctor will first ask some questions, do a check-up, and maybe do some tests. Tests that would help the doctor identify the problem include a blood test, an X-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan. The child may require some medicine or just instructions to change eating habits to help heal the problem.

Some tips to help your child minimise abdominal pains:

  • Don't eat excessively.
  • Avoid raw food and food prepared in unhygienic places.
  • Consume foods rich in fibre, such as fruits and vegetables, to maintain regular bowel movements.
  • Clean your child's hands before meals and maintain hygiene during food preparation.
  • Avoid eating just before bedtime.
  • Drink enough water to keep well hydrated.