in children is a common problem. About 1 out of 3 children is seen by a
doctor for abdominal pain by the time they are age 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 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
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
an upset stomach, 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
lead poisoning, or problems with the intestines, such
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.
Generalized pain occurs in half of the abdomen or more. Localized pain is located in one area of the abdomen . 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 ages 4 to 11.
Check your child's symptoms 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 the child will not need a visit to
Home treatment for abdominal pain often depends on other
symptoms that are present with the pain, such as diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. See the Related Information section of this topic for information on some of these other symptoms.
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
- 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
- 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, or drinks that have caffeine or carbonation until 48 hours after all
symptoms have gone away. These foods may make your child's stomachache
- 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
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
- Pain increases or localizes to one section of
- Other symptoms develop, such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting,
- The belly feels hard or looks very
- Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
Abdominal pain in children can often be
- 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.
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
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
- 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
- Is the pain constant, or does it come and
- Is the pain localized to one area or generalized over the whole
- How severe is the pain? What has your child's activity level
- 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.
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
- Constipation, Age 11 and Younger
- Crying, Age 3 and Younger
- Diarrhea, Age 11 and Younger
- Nausea and Vomiting, Age 11 and Younger
- Nausea and Vomiting, Age 12 and Older
- Respiratory Problems, Age 11 and Younger
- Urinary Problems and Injuries, Age 11 and Younger
Other Works Consulted
Campo JV, et al. (2004). Recurrent abdominal pain,
anxiety, and depression in primary care. Pediatrics,