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Abdominal Pain in Kids: When to Worry
last updated:
Thu, 8/23/2012 9:59 AM

When your child complains of stomach pain more often that not, it can cause concern for parents. Is it just a virus or something more? We asked Dr. Mark Corkins, director of Pediatric Gastroenterology at Le Bonheur, about this topic. Here's what he had to say:

What are some of the most common causes for abdominal pain in children?
The most common cause of short-term abdominal pain in children is a viral infection, which is called gastroenteritis.  The most common cause of long-term abdominal pain in children is what we term functional pain.  We all know about “butterflies” when we get nervous.  Children express turmoil or distress in their lives often in physical ways, and abdominal pain is one of the most common.

Are there other symptoms parents should watch for to know if a stomach ache is more serious than just a virus?
The crampy pain that comes with a viral infection can be very severe, but if the pain is so bad the child doesn’t want to move, that can mean it is time to be looked at by an expert.  Also viral illness can last a week or slightly longer, but if it goes beyond that your child needs to be seen by a doctor.   Even if it is a virus, it crucial that keep enough fluid in our bodies.  If the child is not making wet diapers or peeing regularly, he needs to be seen right away.  The other issue if they are vomiting up green fluid or large amounts of blood (some streaks and spots are common).

How can parents tell if the abdominal pain is caused by a food allergy?
Food allergies are rarer than people think especially as a cause of abdominal pain.  If the pain is caused by an allergy there are usually other symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea.  The symptoms would only happen when the child eats the food he or she is allergic to, and the child would be completely normal between those episodes.

What are some common food allergies that cause digestive issues for kids?
The most common food allergy statistically is milk, but the majority of patients that have problems with milk are not allergic -- but lactose intolerant.  That can be dealt with by using lactose-free milk or replacement enzymes.  Dairy products are extremely important in children’s diets because nothing else comes close to the vitamin D and calcium they provide.   The list of the most common allergies include peanuts, shellfish, eggs, soy, nuts, wheat and fish.

Can kids with chronic stomach aches benefit from an alternative diet -- even if testing for a gluten or other allergy comes back negative?
If the testing is negative it is a pretty good indication that there is not an allergy.  However, when you remove a food from your diet it changes your diet.  For instance, if you remove wheat from your diet you also eliminate foods like pizza and pastas.  The tomato sauces on these items tend to be very irritating to the gastrointestinal tract, so you may feel better even if you are not allergic to the wheat.   The relationship may not be allergy related but that you are actually eating a diet that is better for you.


my 2 yr old complains that her belly hurts alot. took her to the doc they done an xray she said it showed a lil poopoo but not enough that should bother her. and ask was she using the bathroom ok and i said yes she was. done a strep test cuz she said strep could cause abdominal pain it was negative. told me to try going up on her previcid and see if that helped. my child still complains bout her belly hurting so idk whats going on.

Posted by Kayla Gray on August 23, 2012 at 10:43 AM CDT #

Sometimes, diagnosing the source of stomach or digestive issues can be difficult. Your pediatrician might recommend seeing a pediatric gastroenterologist as the next step.

Posted by Le Bonheur Children's Hospital on August 24, 2012 at 01:22 PM CDT #

If nothing is found, as in my daughters case,please look deeply into things you don't like to think about..after many numerous dr visits over a period of at least six years, scans,blood tests the whole thourogh exams, a counselor at Stanford medical center helped my daughter verbalise her pain..she was raped from the age of six by a family member..he is now in prison where he belongs... Please don't ignore any issues you don't understand, I can't help but feel like I should have known....

Posted by Becky miller on August 31, 2012 at 11:45 AM CDT #

My two and a half year old son has been unwell since Thursday last week, it started off with a sore throat and fever and high temp for a few days but now has chronic pain in his belly he's agitated miserable and has been crying in pain on and off since 1am this morning (Monday) he is in agony and I think it's only his belly although I'm unsure as a 2 year old cannot tell me what else is wrong! We have a gp appt later but is there anything I can do in the mean time to take the pain away? As nothing seems to be working

Posted by Lauren Wingham on September 17, 2012 at 06:37 AM CDT #

My two and a half year old son has been unwell since Thursday last week, it started off with a sore throat and fever and high temp for a few days but now has chronic pain in his belly he's agitated miserable and has been crying in pain on and off since 1am this morning (Monday) he is in agony and I think it's only his belly although I'm unsure as a 2 year old cannot tell me what else is wrong! We have a gp appt later but is there anything I can do in the mean time to take the pain away? As nothing seems to be working

Posted by Lauren Wingham on September 17, 2012 at 06:38 AM CDT #

Abdominal pain in child is due to the indigestion problem in digestive system.Therefore parents should take there child for the proper medication and diagnosis before the problem start turning in to serious pain. 24 hour urgent care houston

Posted by james mathew on April 19, 2013 at 06:09 AM CDT #

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Posted by Gast on April 23, 2014 at 03:27 AM CDT #

My 4 year old son keeps saying he has a bad belly this has been going on for about 2 weeks now its every day just about but he can be fine all day and then says he has pain and starts crying he normaly says it more at dinner times and when he's tired but sometimes its out of the blue he's been running round like normal he's went off his food a lot but still picking at things his poos are fine no vomiting or any thing he's not ilergic to any thing as far as I no any one have any idears or is it best to take him straight to doctors

Posted by kate on September 28, 2014 at 05:46 PM CDT #

My nine year old son said above his belly button hurts all the time and even more so when he goes pee but he don't have a uti???

Posted by Amber on December 19, 2014 at 03:39 PM CST #

My two yr old has been complaining about her stomach on and off for about three months, but she also stays sick alot each time ive taken her to the doctor all they do is feel her stomach to see if it hurts when they touches it which it doesnt cause i feels on her stomach constantly to see where the pain coming from.now im wondereing do i have to ask for them to give her an exray i wanna be sure that my baby stomach is alrite.

Posted by concerned mom, on January 25, 2015 at 06:49 AM CST #

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Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center is a leading children's hospital in the Mid South, providing pediatric care to children from 95 counties in six states.
50 N. Dunlap Street, Memphis, Tennessee 38103 • (901) 287-KIDS