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Abdominal pain - children under age 12

Stomach pain in children; Pain - abdomen - children; Abdominal cramps in children; Belly ache in children

Almost all children have abdominal pain at one time or another. Abdominal pain is pain in the stomach or belly area. It can be anywhere between the chest and groin.

Most of the time, it is not caused by a serious medical problem. But sometimes abdominal pain can be a sign of something serious. Learn when you should seek medical care right away for your child with abdominal pain.

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Considerations

When your child complains of abdominal pain, see if they can describe it to you. Here are different kinds of pain:

If you have an infant or toddler, your child depends on you seeing that they are in pain. Suspect abdominal pain if your child is:

Causes

Your child could have abdominal pain for many reasons. It can be hard to know what is going on when your child has abdominal pain. Most of the time, there is nothing seriously wrong. But sometimes, it can be a sign that there is something serious and your child needs medical care.

Your child most likely is having abdominal pain from something that is not life threatening. For example, your child may have:

Your child may have something more serious if the pain does not get better in 24 hours, gets worse or gets more frequent. Abdominal pain can be a sign of:

Home Care

Most of the time, you can use home care remedies and wait for your child to get better. If you are worried or your child's pain is getting worse, or the pain lasts longer than 24 hours, call your health care provider.

Have your child lie quietly to see if the abdominal pain goes away.

Offer sips of water or other clear fluids.

Suggest that your child try to pass stool.

Avoid solid foods for a few hours. Then try small amounts of mild foods such as rice, applesauce, or crackers.

Do not give your child foods or drinks that are irritating to the stomach. Avoid:

Do not give aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or similar medicines without first asking your child's provider.

To prevent many types of abdominal pain:

To reduce the risk of accidental poisoning and ingestion of foreign bodies:Do not allow infants and young children to play with objects they can easily swallow.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if the abdominal pain does not go away in 24 hours.

Seek medical help right away or call your local emergency number (such as 911) if your child:

Call your provider if your child has:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Talk to the provider about the location of the pain and its time pattern. Let the provider know if there are other symptoms like fever, fatigue, general ill feeling, change in behavior, nausea, vomiting, or changes in stool.

Your provider may ask the questions about the abdominal pain:

During the physical examination, the provider will test to see if the pain is in a single area (point tenderness) or whether it is spread out.

They may do some tests to check on the cause of the pain. The tests may include:

References

Gala PK, Posner JC. Abdominal pain. In: Selbst SM, ed. Pediatric Emergency Medicine Secrets. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 5.

Maqbool A, Liacouras CA. Major symptoms and signs of digestive tract disorders. In: Kliegman RM, St Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 332.

Seller Rh, Symons AB. Abdominal pain in children. In: Seller RH, Symons AB, eds. Differential Diagnosis of Common Complaints. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 2.

Smith KA. Abdominal pain. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 24.

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Review Date: 7/2/2019  

Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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