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Abdominal Pain in Children


What is abdominal pain in children?

Abdominal pain may be felt between the bottom of your child's rib cage and his or her groin. Pain may be acute or chronic. Acute pain usually lasts less than 3 months. Chronic pain lasts longer than 3 months.

Abdominal Organs

What causes abdominal pain in children?

The cause may not be found. The following are common causes of abdominal pain in children:

  • Overeating, gas pains, or food poisoning
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • An injury
  • A serious health problem, such as appendicitis

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. He or she may cry or scream from the pain. Depending on the cause, he or she may also have nausea, vomiting, fever, or diarrhea.

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 or she is in pain. Your baby may do the following when he or she has pain:

  • Bite or squeeze his or her 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 or her arms around
  • Frown or squeeze his or her eyes shut tightly
  • Pull his or her knees up to his or her chest
  • Get upset when touched
  • Shudder (mild shake)
  • Sleep more or less than usual
  • Touch, rub, or massage his or her abdomen

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

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

  • Hold his or her 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 or she has been potty-trained
  • Seem withdrawn and does not do normal activities, such as play
  • Touch, tug, rub, or massage his or her abdomen

How is the cause of abdominal pain in children diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child and check his or her abdomen. He or she will want you or your child to describe where the pain is and when it started. The provider may ask if the pain wakes your child or stops him or her from doing daily activities. Describe anything that seems to make the pain better or worse. Your child may need any of the following:

  • A smiley face scale may be shown to your child. A smiling face is no pain, and a sad face with tears is very bad pain. Your child may be asked to point to the face that matches what he or she feels.
    Pain Scale
  • Blood, urine, or bowel movement samples may be tested for signs of an infection, disease, or injury.
  • X-ray pictures of your child's abdomen may show an injury or other cause of the pain.

How is abdominal pain in children treated?

  • Prescription pain medicine may be needed. Ask your child's healthcare provider how to give this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not give your child other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to a healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your child's provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.
  • Relaxation therapy may be used along with pain medicine.
  • Surgery may be needed, depending on the cause.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child's abdominal pain gets worse.
  • Your child vomits blood, or you see blood in his or her bowel movement.
  • Your child's pain gets worse when he or she moves or walks.
  • Your child has vomiting that does not stop.
  • Your male child's pain moves into his genital area.
  • Your child's abdomen becomes swollen or tender to the touch.
  • Your child has trouble urinating.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child's abdominal 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.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.