Children complain of stomachaches for all sorts of reasons—not uncommonly, to stall at bedtime. Or perhaps they’re trying to avoid school. Or maybe their “eyes were bigger than their stomach” and they ate too much for dinner.
Recurrent abdominal pain (often simply called stomachache)
is common but luckily usually not serious in children. In some cases, no physical cause can be found, and the pain is termed functional or nonspecific pain, possibly related to emotional stress. At times, spasms in the digestive tract may cause pain. A crying child may swallow gas, which can cause abdominal discomfort. What’s essential to remember is that the pain can be real, even though there is no obvious cause.
Other Causes of Stomachaches Include the Following:
- Constipation, although rarely a problem in younger babies, is more common in older children.
- Urinary tract infections are more common in 1- to 5-year-old girls than in younger children and cause discomfort in the abdomen and bladder area.
- Strep throat is a throat infection caused by bacteria (streptococci), with symptoms that include a sore throat, fever, and abdominal pain.
- Appendicitis is very uncommon in children younger than 5 years; the first sign is a complaint of constant stomachache in the center of the abdomen, which later moves down and over to the right side.
- Milk allergy, a reaction to the protein in milk, produces cramping abdominal pain.
- Lactose intolerance is when the body lacks the enzyme needed to break down lactose in milk and other milk products. Lactose intolerance is different from a milk allergy and is more common in African American and Asian children. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include diarrhea or constipation, increased gassiness, and cramping abdominal pain.
- Emotional upset, particularly in school-aged children, may cause recurrent abdominal pain that seems to have no other cause.
When to Call Your Pediatrician:
Abdominal pain that comes on suddenly or persists may require prompt attention, especially if your child has additional symptoms, such as a change in his bowel pattern, vomiting, fever (temperature of 100.4°F or higher), sore throat, or headache. Even when no physical cause can be found, the child’s distress is genuine and should receive appropriate attention.
Call your pediatrician promptly if your baby is younger than 1 year and shows signs of stomach pain (for example, legs pulled up toward the abdomen, unusual crying); if your child aged 4 years or younger has recurrent stomachache; or if abdominal pain awakes him or stops him from getting to sleep.