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.
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.
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:
If the measures above do not work, you may also try these:
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to evaluate your child's symptoms if any of the following occur during home treatment:
Abdominal pain in children can often be prevented.
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:
Other Works Consulted
- Campo JV, et al. (2004). Recurrent abdominal pain, anxiety, and depression in primary care. Pediatrics, 113(40): 817–823.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine|
|Last Revised||March 18, 2011|
Last Revised: March 18, 2012
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