Abdominal pain in children: what can cause it and when to seek help

Stomach ache is one of the most common health complaints in small children, but identifying the root of the problem and taking appropriate action can be tricky.

We asked Dr Rebecca Hayes, clinical lead at Doctor Care Anywhere, to give us her tips for parents.


Why do children get tummy aches?

The causes of a tummy ache are many and varied (and mostly not serious). Here are some possible reasons, as well as things to look out for; bear in mind that the age of your child is important, as certain conditions are more common in babies and toddlers than older children.

Babies (up to one year old)

Possible causes:

  •  Colic
  •  Constipation
  •  Viral diarrhoea and vomiting (D&V)
  •  Acid reflux and urine infections

And very rarely...

  •  Intussusception (intestinal prolapse)
  •  Volvulus (twisted bowel)


Symptoms and when to seek advice:

 • Crying/drawing knees to chest: if your baby otherwise seems well (ie is feeding well and there is no fever, rash, or change in stools), this could indicate colic. The crying should resolve in two to three hours. Manage at home

 • If they still have colic past six months old; cry intensely for more than three hours; emit a different, high-pitched cry, or they're not feeding well. See your GP

 • Being floppy or drowsy; they're persistently irritable, or the abdominal pain is sudden. Seek urgent advice

 • A temperature of over 38 degrees for a child under three months, or over 39 degrees if they're under six months. Seek urgent advice


Toddlers, children and teens

Possible causes:

  •  Constipation
  •  Viral D&V
  •  Urine infections (less common)

In children aged six to 12, stomach pain may also be caused by:

  •  Appendicitis
  •  Testicular problems

And, in pre-teens and teenaged girls, by:

  •  Period-related issues


Symptoms and when to seek advice:

 • Blood in stool but they otherwise appear to be well; vomiting intermittently with good fluid intake in between (and otherwise well); if the pain does not improve after painkillers or lasts more than two to three days. See your GP

 • If you find a rash; notice any breathing problems, or they're experiencing severe pain that is not controlled with painkillers. Seek urgent advice

 • If the child is unwell and has blood in stool or is vomiting persistently; if they're unable to tolerate fluids. Seek urgent advice

 • If the child is generally well but has pain in their testicles. Seek urgent advice

 • If your child has started their period and the pain coincides with the end of their cycle, it may be menstrual pain. Manage at home

 • If period pain cannot be controlled with over the counter pain killers or if periods are stopping your child from doing their normal activities/attending school. See your GP


A good general principle is that if the stomach pain is not controlled with simple over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol (Calpol) or ibuprofen (Nurofen), you should seek medical advice.

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This content has been supplied by www.doctorcareanywhere.com 

Last updated: 8 months ago