: Abdominal Pain in Children
How common is abdominal pain in children?
Chronic (lasting more than 3 months) or recurrent abdominal pain
is one of the most common reasons that parents seek medical attention.
The important point here is that the pain recurs or persists for
a prolonged period of time as opposed to an acute or sudden, one-time
episode of the stomach flu, fo example.
What are the causes of recurrent abdominal pain?
Although there can be a lot of possible causes, in most cases,
a medical cause of abdominal pain is not found. Surprisingly,
when a cause is found, the most common cause is constipation.
Other possible causes include:
Gastro-esophageal reflux and rarely ulcers
Urinary tract or bladder infection
Any abdominal organ problem(such as tumor or inflammation)
When does one worry about abdominal pain?
Usually children with recurrent abdominal pain have no other associated
symptoms and continue to grow and develop normally. Possible alarm
or warning signs that there is a serious underlying problem include:
Blood in the stools
Black or white colored stools
Any other associated symptoms such as pallor and fatigue
Fortunately in most cases there is no underlying serious medical
What tests are needed when evaluating children with recurrent
When a physician evaluates a child for abdominal pain there are
a variety of tests including x-rays, and blood tests that may
be done. Which specific tests and how many are performed, if any,
depends on the overall individual situation. Generally if a child
is well otherwise with normal growth and there are no alarm symptoms
or signs present, there may be no or minimal testing.
What about appendicitis?
As opposed to recurrent or functional abdominal pain of childhood,
appendicitis usually doesn't linger on for months. Acute appendicitis,
usually begins suddenly with pain in the center of the abdomen
(belly button area) which then slowly, works its way down to the
right side. There are also some specific signs that a doctor can
find during a physical examination. If you suspect your child
has appendicitis, seek immediate medical attention.
For more information on appendicitis
in children click here
What can be done for constipation?
Parents are often shocked to find out that the most common identifiable
cause of recurrent abdominal pain in children is constipation.
In many cases, parents do not even realize that their child is
constipated. Abdominal pain due to constipation results from "overloaded
intestines" that do not empty out completely. The retained stool
puts pressure on the intestines resulting in abdominal pain. This
is why in some instances the pain is relieved if the child goes
to the bathroom. Once the diagnosis of constipation has been confirmed,
the treatment is usually simple.
For more information on constipation
Can milk allergy or lactose intolerance cause abdominal
Abdominal pain is not the most common symptom of milk allergy
although it can rarely be. On the other hand, lactose intolerance
can cause recurrent abdominal pain. In most cases there is also
associated diarrhea or bloating. However, lactose intolerance
can present just with symptoms of abdominal pain. Lactose intolerance
means that a child or an adult cannot digest the milk sugar: lactose.
For more on milk protein allergy click
What if a cause of the abdominal pain is not found?
When no obvious medical cause is found it is referred to as idiopathic
or functional abdominal pain of childhood. Once a medical/physical
cause has been ruled out, social stressors such as school or family
problems (ie: recent family problems such as divorce separation
etc) need to be identified as these may be causing the pain. The
pattern of pain may be helpful: For example, if a child's pain
is worse during weekdays and absent during weekends and the summer,
this is suggestive of school related stress as the cause. If after
a complete assessment, social stressors are identified as the
cause of a child's recurrent abdominal pain the treatment approach
focuses on helping and supporting the child deal with the stress.
Depending on the circumstances, this may require the help of other
professionals such as psychologists, guidance counsellors, teachers
and/or social workers.
Other Childhood Illnesses
The information provided in this site is
designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to
replace the advice and care of your child's physician, nor is
it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If
you suspect that your child has a medical condition, always
consult a physician.
© Autograph Communications Inc.,
All rights reserved