Frequently Asked Questions

Abdominal Pain In Children

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What is abdominal pain in children?

Abdominal (belly) pain is pain between the bottom of your child's rib cage and his groin.

What causes abdominal pain in children?

Overeating, gas pains, or food poisoning may cause abdominal pain. Other causes may be constipation or diarrhea. Your child may have abdominal pain because of an injury or other serious health problem, such as appendicitis. The cause of your child's abdominal pain also may be unknown.

What are the different types of abdominal pain?

Pain may be acute or chronic.

  • Acute pain is short-lived and usually lasts less than 3 months. Healthcare providers help first by finding and caring for the cause of the pain. Acute pain can usually be controlled or stopped with pain medicine.

  • Chronic pain lasts longer than 3 months. Healthcare providers may use medicines along with other treatments, like relaxation therapies to help your child's pain.

What are the signs and symptoms of abdominal pain in children?

Your child's pain may be sharp or dull. The pain may stay in the same place or move around. Your child may have the pain all the time, or it may come and go. Your child may have nausea, vomiting, fever, or diarrhea. Your child may cry or scream from the pain.

How is abdominal pain in children diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your child and check his belly. Healthcare providers will want you or your child to talk about the pain. This helps healthcare providers learn what may be causing the pain and how best to treat it. Healthcare providers will want you or your child to answer the following questions:

  • Where does it hurt? Does the pain move from one area to another?

  • How would you rate the pain on a scale? On zero to 10 scale, zero is no pain, and 10 is the worst pain your child ever had. Or, try a smiley face scale. A smiling face is no pain, and a sad face with tears is very bad pain. Some healthcare providers may suggest other ways to help your child tell you how much he hurts.

  • How does the pain feel? Try to choose words that tell healthcare providers what type of pain your child is having, such as sharp, cramping, twisting, squeezing, or crushing.

  • When did the pain start? Did it begin quickly or slowly? Is the pain steady, or does it come and go? Does the pain come before, during, or after meals?

  • How often does the pain bother you, and how long does it last?

  • Does the pain affect the things you do? Can you still play or go to school? Do certain activities cause the pain to start or get worse like coughing or touching the area?

  • Does the pain wake you up?

  • Does anything lessen the pain like changing positions, resting, medicines, or changing what you eat?

How is abdominal pain in children treated?

Blood, urine, or bowel movement tests may be done. Your child may have x-rays of his abdomen. Medicine may be needed to decrease or take away your child's belly pain. Sometimes, surgery is needed to treat the pain.

How will I know if my baby has abdominal pain?

Babies and very young children have trouble talking and saying what they feel. It may be hard to know if when he is in pain. Your baby may do the following when he has pain:

  • Bite or squeeze his lips tightly

  • Cry with a higher pitch, whimper, or groan

  • Move around a lot to lie in a way that will not hurt or move his arms around

  • Frown or squeeze his eyes shut tightly

  • Pull his knees up to his chest

  • Get upset when touched

  • Shudder (mild shake)

  • Sleep more or less than usual

  • Touch, rub, or massage his belly

How will I know if my young child has abdominal pain?

Your toddler, preschooler, or young child may do the following when he has pain:

  • Hold his arms, legs, or body stiffly

  • Cry, whimper, or groan

  • Act restless

  • Guard or protect the painful area from touching anything

  • Kick when someone comes near

  • Lose control of bowel and bladder after he has been potty-trained

  • Seem withdrawn and does not do normal activities, such as play

  • Touch, tug, rub, or massage his belly

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child's belly pain does not get better after a few hours.

  • Your child has a fever.

  • Your child cannot stop vomiting.

  • You have questions about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your child's belly pain gets worse.

  • Your child vomits blood, or you see blood in your child's bowel movement.

  • Your child is bent over and holding his belly because of the pain. Your child may not be able to walk on his own.

  • Your male child's pain moves into his genital area.

  • Your child's belly becomes swollen or very tender to the touch.

  • Your child has trouble urinating.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. To help with this plan, you must learn about abdominal pain and how it can be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers. Work with them to decide what care will be used to treat your child.The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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