Stomach Pains Symptoms & Causes

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Contact the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

What are stomach pain symptoms in children?

When your child tells you her tummy hurts, the most likely culprit is not eating enough, not going to the bathroom, or a combination of those two common childhood challenges. Frequently, a glass of milk will soothe hunger pains, or a trip to the bathroom can solve the problem. (See also: Constipation) However, for kids with frequent or chronic stomach pain, a solution isn’t always that easy. 

Stomach pains can be accompanied by symptoms like:

  • Nausea
  • Excessive gas or bowel movements
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting

What causes stomach pain in children?

Our gastrointestinal tract is a complicated system of nerves and muscles that pushes the food we eat through the digestive process. But some children's nerves are very sensitive. Even normal intestinal activities upset their nerves, causing pain.

In some cases, stomachache caused by a very specific problem such as ulcers, heartburn or constipation. In other children, the cause may not be so clear.

An infection caused by a virus or bacteria, being under stress or tired may make the intestinal nerves more sensitive and trigger pain. In some cases, the problem may be genetic, which means it’s a condition that "runs in the family," so other family members may have a similar history of the problem.

When should you call the doctor about stomach pains in children?

For mild stomach pains, you can typically wait for your child to get better and use home care remedies. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, you should call your doctor if your child has: 

  • Stomach pain that lasts more than a week, even if it comes and goes
  • Stomach pain that does not improve in 24 hours. Call if it is getting more severe and frequent, or if your child is nauseous and vomiting with the pain
  • A burning sensation during urination
  • Diarrhea for more than 2 days
  • Vomiting for more than 12 hours
  • Fever over 100.4 degrees F
  • Poor appetite for more than 2 days
  • Unexplained weight loss

You should seek medical help immediately if your child: 

  • Is a baby younger than 3 months and has diarrhea or vomiting
  • Is unable to pass stool, especially if the child is also vomiting
  • Is vomiting blood or has blood in the stool (especially if the blood is maroon or dark, tarry black)
  • Has sudden, sharp abdominal pain
  • Has a rigid, hard belly
  • Has had a recent injury to the abdomen
  • Is having trouble breathing
  • Is currently being treated for cancer
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