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Acute Abdominal Pain in Children


What do I need to know about acute abdominal pain in children?

Acute abdominal pain usually starts suddenly and gets worse quickly.

Abdominal Organs

What are minor causes of acute abdominal pain in children?

  • Constipation
  • Acid reflux
  • An allergic reaction to food, or food poisoning
  • Colic in infants
  • Stress
  • Monthly period pain in older female children

What are serious causes of acute abdominal pain in children?

  • A blockage in your child's bowels
  • Inflammation or rupture of your child's appendix
  • Bleeding in your child's abdomen or organ
  • An ulcer or tear in your child's esophagus, stomach, or intestines
  • Swelling or an infection in your child's abdomen or organ
  • Stones in your child's kidney or gallbladder
  • Twisting of your child's testicles or ovaries
  • An ectopic pregnancy in older female children

How is the cause of acute abdominal pain diagnosed?

The cause of your child's abdominal pain may not be found. Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's signs and symptoms. Tell the provider when your child's symptoms started and about any recent travel, surgery, or injury. Also tell him or her what makes your child's pain better or worse, and what treatments you have tried. The provider will examine your child. Based on what the provider finds from the exam, and your child's symptoms, your child may need more tests:

  • Blood tests may be used to check how well your child's organs are working. The tests may check for a disease or infection that may be causing symptoms.
  • Ultrasound, x-ray, CT, or MRI pictures may be used to check the organs inside your child's abdomen. Healthcare providers use these pictures to look for problems such as blocked intestines. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any metal in or on his or her body.
  • A colonoscopy is a test that is done to look at your child's colon. A tube with a light on the end will be put into your child's anus. The tube is then moved up into his or her colon for healthcare providers to see if there are any problems.

  • An endoscopy uses a scope to see the inside of your child's digestive tract. A scope is a long, bendable tube with a light on the end. A camera may be hooked to the scope so the healthcare provider can take pictures. During an endoscopy, healthcare providers may find problems with how your child's digestive tract is working. Samples may be taken from your child's digestive tract and sent to a lab for tests.
    Upper Endoscopy (Child)
  • A bowel movement and urine sample may be collected and sent to a lab for tests. The test may show which germ is causing your child's illness.
  • A pregnancy test may be done for your daughter if she has started having periods.

How is acute abdominal pain treated?

Treatment may depend on the cause of your child's abdominal pain. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to decrease pain, treat a bacterial infection, or manage your child's symptoms. Do not give aspirin to children younger than 18 years. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he or she takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage.
  • Surgery may be needed to treat a serious cause of abdominal pain. Examples include surgery to treat appendicitis or a blockage in your child's bowels.

How can I help manage my child's symptoms?

  • Apply heat on your child's abdomen for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours. Do this for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.
  • Help your child manage stress. Your child's healthcare provider may recommend relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises to help decrease your child's stress. The provider may recommend that your child talk to someone about his or her stress or anxiety, such as a school counselor.
  • Make changes to the foods you give to your child, if needed:
    • Give your child more fiber if he or she has constipation. High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, and legumes.

    • Do not give your child foods that cause gas. , Examples include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and carbonated drinks.
    • Do not give your child foods or drinks that contain sorbitol or fructose if he or she has diarrhea and bloating. Some examples are fruit juices, candy, jelly, and sugar-free gum. Do not give him or her high-fat foods, such as fried foods, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and desserts.
    • Have your child drink more liquid and eat small meals more often. This may help decrease his or her abdominal pain. Ask your child's healthcare provider how much liquid your child should have and which liquids are best for him or her. The provider may recommend an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS contains electrolytes that will help your child's digestive system.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child's bowel movement has blood in it, or looks like black tar.
  • Your child is bleeding from his or her rectum.
  • Your child cannot stop vomiting, or vomits blood.
  • Your child's abdomen is larger than usual, very painful, and hard.
  • Your child has severe pain in his or her abdomen.
  • Your child feels weak, dizzy, or faint.
  • Your child stops passing gas and having bowel movements.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has new symptoms.
  • Your child's symptoms do not get better with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns 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.