Abdominal Pain, Age 11 and Younger
Abdominal pain in children is a common problem. About one out of three children is seen by a doctor for abdominal pain by the time they are 15, but only a small number of these children have a serious problem.
Complaints of abdominal pain are more common in children younger than 11 years old and are often caused by changes in eating and bowel habits. Most cases of abdominal pain are not serious, and home treatment is often all that is needed to help relieve the discomfort.
Abdominal pain in children is often frightening and frustrating for parents. Many times it is hard to find the exact cause of a child's abdominal pain. Pain without other symptoms that goes away completely in less than 3 hours is usually not serious.
In children, abdominal pain may be related to injury to the abdomen or an illness, such as stomach flu, an ear infection, a urinary tract infection, or strep throat. Constipation is a common cause of abdominal pain in children. Some more serious causes of abdominal pain in children include appendicitis, lead poisoning, or problems with the intestines, such as intussusception or malrotation. Girls who start having menstrual periods may have abdominal pain each month, and the pain may be more severe in some months than others.
Babies and toddlers often react differently to pain than older children who can talk about their pain. A baby may become fussy, draw his or her legs up toward the belly, or eat poorly. Older children may be able to point to the area of the pain and describe how severe it is.
Abdominal pain can occur one time, or it can occur repeatedly over several months. Recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) is a condition that affects children between the ages of 4 and 11.
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to decide if and when your child should see a doctor.
Most of the time, a child's abdominal pain will get better with home treatment and will not need a visit to a doctor.
Home treatment for abdominal pain often depends on other symptoms that are present with the pain, such as diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. Be sure to review the home treatment for any other symptoms your child has by looking in the Related Information section of this topic.
Try the following, one at a time in the order listed, if your child has mild abdominal pain without other symptoms:
- Have your child rest when he or she has mild stomachaches. Most symptoms will get better or go away in 30 minutes.
- Have your child sip clear fluids, such as water, broth, tea, or fruit juice diluted with water.
- Have your child try to pass a stool.
If the measures above do not work, you may also try these:
- Serve your child several small meals instead of 2 or 3 large ones.
- Serve mild foods, such as rice, dry toast or crackers, gelatin, or applesauce. Do not give your child spicy foods, other fruits, and drinks that have caffeine or carbonation until 48 hours after all symptoms have gone away. These foods may make your child's stomachache worse.
- Do not give your child any medicines without talking to the doctor first. Medicines may mask the pain or make it worse.
Symptoms to Watch For During Home Treatment
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to evaluate your child's symptoms if any of the following occur during home treatment:
- Pain increases or localizes to one section of the abdomen.
- Pain does not go away within 24 hours.
- Other symptoms develop, such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or fever.
- Pressing on the belly increases your child's pain.
- The belly feels hard or looks very swollen.
- Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
Abdominal pain in children can often be prevented.
- Abdominal pain in children is often caused by irregular bowel habits. Become familiar with your child's normal bowel patterns. Also, be aware of the size and consistency of your child's stools. This will help to determine whether constipation is a problem. For information on preventing constipation and establishing toilet training, see the topic Constipation, Age 11 and Younger.
- Try to make sure your child has regular eating habits. Overeating is a common cause of abdominal discomfort. Have your child eat slowly and stop when he or she feels full. For more information, see the topic Healthy Eating for Children.
- Swallowing air (aerophagia) can cause abdominal pain and a swollen abdomen. Your child may also have a lot of belching or flatus. Limit chewing gum and carbonated beverages to help prevent this. Many children swallow air when they are anxious or frightened.
Preparing For Your Appointment
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your child's condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
- Has your child had an injury to the abdomen?
- How long has your child had the pain?
- What was your child doing when the pain started?
- Has your child had similar episodes of abdominal pain before? What were these episodes like? How were they treated?
- Is the pain constant, or does it come and go?
- Is the pain localized to one area or generalized over the whole belly?
- How severe is the pain? What has your child's activity level been?
- Can your child describe the pain? Is the pain cramping, a steady ache, or sharp and burning?
- What makes the pain better? What makes the pain worse?
- Does your child have other symptoms, such as nausea, urinary problems, constipation, or diarrhea?
- Is your child vomiting? If so, describe how much, how often, and how long.
- Does your child have a fever?
- Has your child recently traveled outside of his or her native country?
- Has your child drunk any untreated well, stream, or lake water?
- Does your child have any health risks?
Other Works Consulted
- Campo JV, et al. (2004). Recurrent abdominal pain, anxiety, and depression in primary care. Pediatrics, 113(40): 817–823.
|Author||Jan Nissl, RN, BS|
|Editor||Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA|
|Associate Editor||Tracy Landauer|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Michael J. Sexton, MD - Pediatrics|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Steven L. Schneider, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics|
|Last Updated||January 16, 2009|
Last Updated: January 16, 2009