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Children’s Health | Family Health
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Stomach Aches: 5 Things Parents Should Know

The difference between a regular tummy ache and something serious

At some point, every parent hears these three words: “My stomach hurts.”

Most of the time, kids’ stomach pain goes away on its own with home remedies such as ginger ale and TLC. But sometimes stomach aches signal something more serious. How can you tell the difference?

Lori Mahajan, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist in Cleveland Clinic Children’s, offers parents five tips about tummy aches in tots and teens, along with advice on when to call or visit the doctor:

5 things every parent should know about stomach aches

1. “Stomach flu” isn’t really the flu

Gastroenteritis, one of the most common causes of stomach aches in children, is typically caused by a virus — just not the influenza virus. It usually includes diarrhea and vomiting and will run its course in seven to 10 days without the need for medical assistance. Be sure to have your child drink plenty of fluids.

Also, watch for blood in the vomit or stool. Those are signs that something more serious could be wrong, and a trip to the doctor is in order.

Stomach Aches: 5 Things Parents Should Know

2. Kids get heartburn, too

We tend to think of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) as an adult problem, but it’s also common in kids. GERD is often tough to pinpoint, especially in very young children, but vomiting is often a strong indicator. So are complaints of a sour or foul taste in the mouth and pain in the upper middle part of the abdomen.

GERD can typically be treated with antacids and, if necessary, medications called H2 blockers such as Pepcid® or Zantac® or proton-pump inhibitor drugs such as Nexium® or Prevacid®. Changes in the diet can help, too. Kids with GERD should avoid acidic drinks like soda pop, orange juice, tomato-based products, spicy foods, and medications such as ibuprofen that irritate the stomach.

Stomach Aches: 5 Things Parents Should Know

3. Constipation is a frequent cause

Constipation rounds out the three most common causes of abdominal pain in kids. Adding more fiber to a child’s diet, along with apple juice (preferably unsweetened) or prune juice can really help.

Watch for rectal bleeding, though. It could signal something more serious. And chronic constipation can point to celiac disease or an underactive thyroid gland, among other conditions.

How to Prevent Constipation in Your Kids

Stomach Aches: 5 Things Parents Should Know

4. Eight glasses of water a day is no myth

Drinking a lot of fluid is important, and not just to keep kids hydrated during a bout of gastroenteritis. Drinking enough fluids will help them maintain healthy bowel function.

At least half the fluid a child drinks should be plain water. Avoid soda pop and other sugary drinks, including sweetened juices, flavored waters and sports drinks. Too much sugar can actually cause stomach aches — not to mention obesity and the long-term health problems associated with it.

Stomach Aches: 5 Things Parents Should Know

5. It may be more than just a stomach ache

Most of the time, a stomach ache shouldn’t cause alarm. But parents should be mindful of how long it lasts and any other symptoms that come with it. Acute pain in a child’s lower right abdomen is a sign of appendicitis, which should be treated right away.

In addition, recurring bouts of what seems like gastroenteritis could really be a sign of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), says Dr. Mahajan, especially if you have a family history of IBD. And chronic stomach aches can come from food allergies or food intolerance.

So when a stomach ache seems like something more, listen to your parental “gut”— and don’t be afraid to talk to your child’s doctor.

Tags: celiac disease, constipation, gastroenteritis, GERD, IBD, pain awareness month, stomach flu
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  • Tara Pope

    My son was having a persistent stomach ache. It would take me several days to get him into the doctors. I was glad I had the MD247 service. I could just pick up the phone, and speak with a doctor within minutes. They could give my child the comfort and relief he needed. http://www.md247.com

  • prakash

    i have 6 years old daughter and she had constipation problem from when she was of 1 years,now she has frequent stomach pain and vumating problem with constipation problem.i had tried a lot of medicine but not find any result.need a help and suggestion on prakashchirania@yahoo.co.in

  • Dawn Lane

    I have a 4 year old daughter and she has had belly pain off and on fir 5 days now. The first day was really bad. Then its was just so oftten, but she has had the runs for 4 days, it is just now on the 5th day that it is arting to have some form to it. And for the past 4 days there has been small traces of blood in her poo. I called the docs about 3 times and they keep telling me to just keep and eye on it. Let me also say that on all five days all her poo is runny other than today loose but not runny, she eats and drinks and plays normaly as if nothing is wrong, does not want t layown nor does she sit there and complain that she is sick all day. Any info?

    • Health Hub Team

      Hi Dawn,
      We are sorry that your daughter is not feeling well. If her symptoms persist and you would like to talk with a medical professional, our Nurse on Call office is available 24/7 to answer your questions. Our nursing team provides confidential, reliable information free of charge at all hours of the day, please call 216.444.1234 or 800.801.2273. If you would like to make an appointment with a primary care pediatrician or a pediatric gastroenterologist, please call 216.444.KIDS (5437).
      Sincerely,
      HealthHub Team

  • marty

    I have a 2 going on 3 years old daughter. She has had the abdominal pain off and on since January 2013. she grabs her belly button area all the time. When is eating, watching TV, going up the steps etc. she keeps saying my tummy hurts mummy. i have been in and out of her doctor’s office. The doc ordered X-ray and he said it was poop. She poops well and doesn’t have constipation. He prescribed Laxative, which we used for about a month. The abdominal pain would not go away. I don’t know what to do anymore. Her doctor has done ultrasound, stool test, blood test etc. All tests came clean. But she is still in pain. She is not going through any stress and i give her a lot of TLC.
    Now i am looking for herbal medicine because it breaks my heart to watch her go through pain for this long.
    Please can anyone help me.

    • Tina Lischak

      Could she be lactose intolerant or IBC

    • vatsla

      Keep cotton ball soaked in mustard oil on her navel and give very light massage around her navel.

      It may be helpful for her. God bless you.

    • Marie

      Does she vomit at all? She might have Cyclic Abdominal Migraines and a physician will usually prescribe Omeprazole (to reduce the amount of acid in her belly) Does she complain after eating pizza or sausage – anything spicy?

      • Robin Varney Simms

        My 24 year old daughter has suffered from Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome (Migraines) since she was 5 years old. It would hit her 4-5 times a week as a child, then slowed down to once or twice every few months. Now, as an adult, she does it maybe once or so a year.

    • marie

      I FOUND IT! Functional Abdominal Pain – here’s the link: http://www.parents.com/health/stomach-ache/tummy-trouble/?page=3

    • Wanda sisk

      My daughter has been doin the same and now I’m being refered to levinge hospital gi dr so I’m scared

    • Cristique

      Oh wow Marty your story is the SAME as mine. But its my son and he’s 7 and NOT constipated like they said he was last year. What was her diagnosis? hopefully you have one by now and can share.

    • ladonna

      Did you find any herbs ?.my son is 12 and we’ve followed exact.path. He does have a small Hiatal hernia they discovered but I still feel he hurts too much.

  • Anonymous

    Not one of these are the cause of some one I know. Paracetamol and other medicines aren’t working. It goes off and on all the time. She’s young and about to go to secondary school. Any one of you know the cure?!?

  • Anonymous

    Also, the pain goes every where near her belly, it’s like something is inside her doing something. It’s not petatartos and it’s not like a parasite in side her, well I hope it’s not…

  • kellie

    Consider lactose or fructose intolerance as well. My daughter wasn’t diagnosed till she was 15, after years of stomach issues and low weight.

    • LIFE_is_a_Shipwreck

      I have the same issue ask your daughter and I’m 21 the doctor said it’s cause of how I eat they suggest I don’t eat enough cause I have low weight but it could be something else.

  • Erin

    Hi all-

    Watch for food allergies and intolerances. They can be hard to diagnose. I was diagnosed as lactose intolerant at 8, fructose intolerant at 16, and celiac at 24. Also have IBS and acid reflux. Good luck to all of you!

  • hannah

    my son is 1 year old and he is suffering from severe abdominal pain, we already went to the doctor several times and nothing happen always the same. Everytime he eat, or drink his milk, he suffer stomach pain. cold is on and off he also have head aches.

    • Shea

      that sounds like he’s lactose intolerant. Try taking all dairy out of his diet for a week & see if it helps! Good Luck!

  • Mary

    Sweet acidophilus is easier on tummies than milk and has healthy bacteria. If the pain is in the belt area, it might be Crohn’s disease, a chronic irritable bowel syndrome in the small intestine. My son was diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 9, but I think it was easier to determine because we knew his father had the condition.

  • Teonie

    Im 14, i been experiencing stomach pain for 3days straight. Sometimes i feel nautious or the need to vomit but it wont happen. I dont know whats wrong wit me .. :(

  • Heather

    I’m 11 and I have really bad stomachs aches every now and then. I’m not nauschious, and I don’t have the runs. I don’t know what’s wrong! I took pepto bismo and it didn’t help. Help!!!

    • vicki

      Hi Heather,
      I am sorry that you went through so much of pain. You should see a Dr to rule out any other problems that can cause you to have so much pain.
      But I guess that the pain comes on very strongly when you are under stress, eg like exam is round the corner, when there are just too much homework, oral exam or you are anxious about a particular situation right? If it is so, you might need to learn some relaxation techniques.
      As you are a child, ask your parents to explore hypnotherapy, EFT( emotional freedom technique).
      These are complementary alternative “tools” going along side any medication that your Dr. prescribed. It can help you to cope with stress and anxieties.
      You are not alone. Many children and adults have these problems too.

  • samantha hunter

    Hi im a 21 year old women and have no health problems but over the last 3 days I have had really back stomach pains and it is woken me up during the night I have took painkillers and it dosnt budge the pain at all dose anyone no what this could be

  • laura

    My little boy is 3yrs old and has been having stomach ache on and off for a few months now and says he’s going to be sick but doesn’t he suffers from toddler diarrhoea which he has 1 or 2 normal stools a week and have been told it should get better by the age of 4/5 any ideas what could be causing the stomach ache

  • Hayley

    Hi there my daughter is 10 and going through excruciating pain coming from her abdomen … i was that scared i had her up at a and e but they said it was not appendicitis that it was cholicy. They could not prescribe her with anything so i had her at the gp and they gave me movicol for her she has pooped everyday since sometimes 2 times and that was a week ago but she is still waking up through the night screaming in pain. does anyone know what this could be ?

  • kat

    About the excruciating stomach aches: Yetserday’s Washington Post Health Section (3/17/2014) has a fascinating piece on a 9 year old-boy who had the flu and after recovering had terrible pain and would throw up. The headline is: “Why was her son so sick? A doctor searches for the cause” by Sandra Bondman. You can find it at:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/
    As I remember the story, the condensed version is: His mom- a doctor– consulted at a number of hospitals before deciding to call docs around the country, presenting the case as if she was talking about a patient who was not her son. After a series of false starts (they took out his gall bladder, said it was all in his head etc) it was discovered that the boy had an extremely rare problem in the tiny tubes that connect to the pancreas, liver and kidney. that caused bile to go where it shouldn’t. (My recollection/ understanding. Better to check the story) The solution was a surgery in which the tubes were stretched. The narrow tubes were probably with him since birth but symptoms appeared only after the flu temporarily weakened his system. He was back playing tennis three months later. (A cyst was discovered during surgery but that is not the usual scenario in this problem). Finding out that this is what your children have is a long shot but I posted on the off-chance. If the mom had this much trouble getting her son diagnosed, I figured that those of us without medical degrees would have a nearly impossible time so I felt I should post this lead. Good luck to all of you and your babies.

  • Heidi D.

    On Friday, March 24, my 10 year old daughter was hospitalized due to a high grade fever, lethargy, and an elevated white level blood count. A series of tests were done and finally after two days care at Scottish Rite in Atlanta, GA, was discharged w/paperwork saying stomach inflammation and a cyst on her liver. It has been over a week since her hospitalization and she continues to have stomach pain and discomfort daily. She was already taken to the pediatrician a day after being discharged and the pediatrician was to refer all her paperwork to a liver specialist. I do not know exactly what condition my daughter may have, but it is so frightening and just breaks my heart. I am in absolute turmoil over this and the uncertainty of what the future holds for us. From so many articles I have read, it seems like it can be so many things from intolerances to even cancer and I am in a on and off depressive state over this. It is horrible to see your child suffer and not be able to cure them. I hope you all find answers to your conditions in the coming weeks. :-(

  • MotherofBrandon

    My son is now 8 1/2. He has has stomach aches with and without vomiting since he was around 3. He has been on and off zantac or nexium over the years as they thought it was gerd for a long time. He can be symptom free for months and then have a bought of stomach pain with or without vomiting that presents either for a few days, once a week for a few weeks or just once in the whole month or nothing for a few months. He typically presents either around midnight or early in the morning but not always. Sometimes it goes away after an hour or even half the day and then seems fine but may have another episode the next night or morning. He has had Allergy tests, I have kept food diaries with no connections, He has had a barium swallow and a scope done all with no findings. The Childrens Hospital of Pittsburgh labeled it as CVS but I have my doubts. Though he seems to have a type of cycle he doesn’t ever(at least not yet) puke all day or require hospitilization like most cases of CVS I read about. He is a health boy other than whatever is going on with him and just don’t know what to do next. Any suggestions?

  • lissette

    Hi im 23 years old. I’ve always had stomach issues since i was 5 years old. i have been in and out of hospitals since then.every couple of months i cant seem to hold down my food i always vomit and have diarrhea. for about a week or two. i take dexillant and reglan on a daily basis. I become severely dehydrated, I always have stomach pains, i have always been told they don’t know what’s wrong with me everything comes out normal. i become overwhelmed because i would like to know what’s the matter with me and alot of stress will be relieved. if somebody could help this would be great.

  • Robin Varney Simms

    I wanted to add to the appendicitis symptoms….my husband, my daughter and son all had appendicitis within 7 months of each other. Every one of them had vomiting, and pain that started around their belly button. The lower right pain didn’t start until more than 10+ hours later.

  • mayra

    Hi I have a 8 year old son that just complains of stomach pain often we went to er they did ultrasound everything Ok It just brakes my heart pcp gave him cultural but no help

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  • Connie

    My 9 yr old has been complaining that her stomach hurts on n off for 6 days now. There is no number 2 only vomiting and after that her stomach feels better. I gave her pepto bismol which only helps a little and she will not drink any ginger ale or anything with electrolytes to help with the vomiting. Can anyone tell me if this sounds like a stomach virus or what else it can be???

  • Believex

    Au some my daughter has a very bad stumic ach

  • Trista

    My son is currently 5 years of age, he has been complaining about a sore stomach for sometime now. It all started roughly 2 years ago when he would have random episodes, where he would go extremely pale, get “wobbly” in his hands and legs to the point at times he can’t stand and nausea. They have now only gotten worse from usually a 15 minute episode they can now last to over 2 hours and no include vomiting, even water, which sucks because water was the only thing that makes him feel better. He had countless blood test, at first telling us he was low in iron/borderline anemic yet the peadiatrician said my doctor had read it wrong and he is fine. He has had stool samples tested for bacteria, tests for lactose, celiac, and other food related tests. His second last blood test showed his white cells were high, hemoglobin was high (even though in the previous one it was low), protein was one number above and 2 almost 3 of his iron levels were low. Took him to the hospital last week where they did more bloods and everything was “fine” yet I find my little boy complaining about his tummy now way to much and way to frequent. Every time his belly hurts he gets the shakes, he needs water asap and a shower to get warm again… I don’t know what else to do!

  • morena

    My stoach has beenhurting everyday for the past week and i do go to bathroom but its everyday more than once in 44should i go to emergency room?im literally in pain everyday