KidsMD Health Topics

Stomach Pains in Children

  • At some point, every child will have an upset stomach. There can be many causes of stomachaches in children, which are typically short-lived, but some children will have pain that consistently bothers them.

    Chronic stomach pains can disrupt the child's life, causing them to lose interest in activities they normally enjoy and can be accompanied by symptoms like:

    • nausea
    • excessive gas or bowel movements
    • diarrhea
    • constipation
    • vomiting

    Chronic stomach pains are common, with 10 to 15% of all school-aged children reporting episodes of recurrent aches and pains. Fortunately, children with this condition typically grow well and maintain their overall good health.

    What causes stomach pain?

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

    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.

    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 a problem.

    How Boston Children's Hospital treats stomach pains

    To best understand the root of your child's stomach pain, a member of Boston Children's Hospital's Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition will take a careful history of how and when your child's pain started, the type of pain your child is experiencing and ask how it progressed over time.

    Blood, urine and stool tests may be performed to rule out specific medical conditions associated with recurrent pain. The clinician also may ask if your child has any history of food intolerances. More in-depth tests, such as x-rays, studies or endoscopy, are only recommended for children where the history, exam or lab tests raise further questions. 

    Once a proper diagnosis has been determined, the care team will create a treatment plan that is right for your child and family. With the right treatment, most children with stomach pain continue to grow well and gain weight.

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