Stomach ache in children

What is it?

Stomach ache in chidlren especially between 3-9 years is very common and can be due to several causes, the most common being gas, indigestion, stomach virus, diet or stress. Most pains usually go away on their own or with simple home remedies but lingering pain should not be ignored and shown to a doctor.  

What are the causes?

Abdominal pain is a symptom of a variety of medical conditions. In majority of cases, it is due to comparatively harmless causes, which can be treated without admission to hospital. In less than 5% of the cases, the situation is an emergency and immediate hospitalization is required. Some of the common causes of stomach ache are:

Indigestion – commonly known as ‘tummy upset’, it is caused by bad food habits like overeating, drinking too many fizzy drinks or eating junk food. Drinking warm water, keeping hot water bottle over the stomach or taking antacids may help to relieve the pain.

Constipation – This may cause stomach ache, nausea and vomiting. The stools are hard and dry. A high fibre diet, and gentle laxatives helps to relieve the condition.

Gastroenteritis – It may be caused due to a viral or bacterial infection. The most evident symptom may be diarrhoea, which is associated with severe abdominal cramps, vomiting and fever. A stool examination can identify the cause.

Worm infestation – caused mostly by roundworms, it can cause recurrent stomach ache in children, particularly those living in conditions with poor sanitation and contaminated water supply. A course of anti-worm medications usually cures the infection.

Chronic recurrent abdominal pain – this type of pain is seen in late childhood (8-15 years) and more often in girls than in boys. Typically, there is a history of three or more episodes of severe abdominal pain over a period of 3-4 months.This is associated with vomiting and headache. This pain is usually psychological in origin, caused by worry, anxiety or as an attention seeking behaviour. Any physical cause is excluded after thorough examination and investigations.

Food allergies – abdominal pain is due to allergy to certain food constituents such as lactose in milk. Certain food preservatives used in cold drinks to give colour or in pickles can also cause of stomach ache in children.

Drugs – certain drugs like those given for epilepsy or malaria and some antibiotics may cause pain in children.

Seek professional help?

Medical opinion should be sought when:- The pain is severe, constant or lasts for more than 2 hours. The pain comes and goes (cramps) and lasts for more than 24 hours. The pain is in the scrotum or testicle. The pain is followed by repeated vomiting and fever. The child looks very sick.

What is the treatment?

No medications for stomach cramps should be given without consulting the doctor. All laxatives, enemas, and painkillers should be avoided. Laxatives and enemas may make the pain worse by stimulating the bowel and painkillers may mask a more serious illness like appendicitis.

What is the homecare treatment?

Rest: Let the child lie down and rest. Keep a covered warm water bottle or heating pad on the stomach for 20 minutes till the pain is better. Diet: Give only sips of clear fluids, but no solids. Keep a vomiting pan handy as younger children are especially likely to refer to nausea as " stomachache." Sitting on the toilet: Encourage sitting on the toilet and trying to pass a stool. This may relieve the pain.

DoctorNDTV Team

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