Yuliya Rekhtman, MD, FAAP
Palmetto Health-USC Pediatric Gastroenterology
“My tummy hurts” is something every parent has heard, but it can be difficult to know what to do. Pediatric gastroenterologist Yuliya Rekhtman, MD, offers tips to help you care for your child who is experiencing stomach pain.
Usually stomachaches are caused by something simple like overeating, gas pains from drinking too much soda, or other types of indigestion. Sometimes a stomachache is caused by constipation. A stomachache also may be the first sign of stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) and vomiting or diarrhea will soon follow. Other common causes are food poisoning or a urinary tract infection (UTI). A common serious cause is appendicitis.
Stomachaches that keep coming back (recurrent) can have many causes. The most common causes of frequent stomachaches are stress and worries. Over 10 percent of children have recurrent stomachaches from stress. The pain is mild but real and occurs in the pit of the stomach or near the belly button. If your child keeps getting stomachaches, talk to your doctor.
How long does it last?
With harmless causes, the pain is usually better or gone in two hours. With stomach flu, the stomach may hurt before each bout of vomiting or diarrhea. With serious causes, the pain worsens or becomes constant.
So, what should you do to take care of your child?
First, do not give any medicines for stomach cramps unless you have talked with your health care provider. Especially avoid laxatives, enemas and painkillers.
If you suspect your child has a stomachache from eating or illness, use the following guidelines for treatment:
- Rest: Your child should lie down and rest until he feels better. A warm washcloth or heating pad on the stomach for 20 minutes may speed recovery.
- Diet: Avoid giving your child solid foods. Only allow sips of clear fluids. Keep a vomiting pan handy. Younger children are especially likely to refer to nausea as “a stomachache.”
- Sitting on the toilet: Encourage your child to sit on the toilet and try to pass a bowel movement. This may relieve pain if it is due to constipation or diarrhea.
What should you do if you suspect your child has appendicitis?
Appendicitis mostly affects kids and teens between five and 20 years old. It is rare in infants. The first signs of appendicitis are often a mild fever and pain around the belly button. It might seem like just a stomachache. But, with appendicitis, the pain usually gets worse and moves to the lower right side of the belly. If your child has belly pain, be on the lookout for these signs of appendicitis:
Call your doctor immediately if you think your child has appendicitis.
- Strong pain, mainly around the belly button or in the lower right part of the belly
- Child typically does not want to move or be touched
- Low-grade fever
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting (throwing up)
- Stools contain mucous
If your child has already seen a doctor and you know that the stomachaches are from stress or worry, these suggestions might ease the pain:
- Help your child worry less. Children who often have stomachaches tend to be sensitive, serious, conscientious, even model children. This can make them more vulnerable to the normal stresses of life, such as changing schools or moving. Help your child talk about events that trigger his pains and how he is going to cope with them.
- Make sure your child doesn't miss any school because of stomachaches. Stressed children have a tendency to want to stay home when the going gets rough.
- Teach your child to use relaxation exercises for pain. Have him lie down in a quiet place; take deep, slow breaths; and think about something pleasant. Listening to audiotapes that teach relaxation might help. Sometimes it is helpful to use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with the help of professional psychotherapist.
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