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Common Causes of Tummy Ache in Children

When you are not feeling up to par, there are a few solutions available to remedy the situation:  1)  you wait it out and hope it goes away; 2) you Google to find the answer (and sometimes you feel worse after reading what those symptoms might really be; or 3) you take yourself to the doctor.

Babies and pets are the only ones who must suffer in silence because they are unable to tell you they don’t feel well.  An astute parent, or pet parent, notices a not-so-perky or listless demeanor or crying/whining and that is all you have to go on.

Toddlers or children are more vocal.  They’ll come up to you and say “I’ve got a tummy ache” and will point a chubby finger around the area of their bellybutton.  Well, that doesn’t help much, so, it is up to you to play detective and decide if the malady warrants a trip to the pediatrician, or even the E.R., or just a few days spent in bed.  Pain that is generally located around the center of the abdomen, or the bellybutton is considered “simple” abdominal pain.

How serious is tummy ache

Children are very resilient and most stomach ailments are minor and they are feeling fine and exhibiting no more symptoms quickly.  If a child comes to school with a cold or the flu, it generally spreads like wildfire.  One way of determining the severity of a stomach ache is its duration.  A general rule of thumb is that any abdominal pain that continues longer than 24 hours should be evaluated by a physician.  Diarrhea or vomiting, both which accompany a garden variety stomach flu, generally last approximately 24 hours – if either diarrhea or vomiting persists past 24 hours, a trip to the pediatrician is in order because either or both will cause dehydration.

It is difficult sometimes to differentiate between what is a transient issue and what could be a life-threatening issue.  The biggest difference is determining whether the abdominal pain  is a viral infection or a bacterial infection.  Viral infections resolve themselves quickly; bacterial infections often require an antibiotic regimen.  Both viruses and bacteria can cause abdominal pain like gastroenteritis, commonly called the stomach flu.   The stomach flu’s onset is quick … cramps, nausea and diarrhea.

Determining emergency situations

When trying to determine the cause of gut pain, you literally must “go with your gut” to recognize the severity of the situation.  A savvy parent or caregiver will be able to determine if the child is in excruciating pain.  The child may be pale, sweating, sleepy or listless.  Study the child’s face and if the painful facial expressions or grimaces have turned to howls or crying due to the pain, or a toddler starts curling up in a ball, then that is your cue to take a trip to the emergency room to rule out appendicitis, blockage of the bowels, or complications from diabetes as a source of the abdominal pain.   Persistent pain on the right side of the abdomen can signal appendicitis.  Though your child may have a fever and feel hot, a fever does not necessarily signal a serious illness.  A fever may be present even in the simple stomach flu and not be present in a bacterial infection.

Not all tummy aches are caused by the flu

Stomach Flu in ChildrenIt’s hard to tell whether the symptoms above are due to the flu or food related.  For example, food poisoning mimics the symptoms of the stomach flu.  And, in an age where listeria, e-coli and tainted food from well-known and respected brands or eating establishments have become prevalent, the symptoms from ingesting tainted food also are the same as the stomach flu.  If your family dined on the same food and are not ill, it is highly unlikely it is food poisoning, but, if your child had a different meal…

While, we are on the topic of food, there are always food allergies to content with.  Pity the parent whose child has a peanut allergy – sometimes the allergy to nuts is so severe, the teacher must instruct the other children’s parents never to send in food for “snack day” or treats that contain peanuts, as it could produce a life-threatening situation.

Even something as innocuous as having a child who ate an excessive amount of food, could cause temporary stomach discomfort.

The hazards around your home

There are the “terrible twos” that occur once your toddler is up and running around on their own and getting into everything.  Parents must be mindful of harmful substances in cabinets where children can just open the door and reach or climb in and grab them.  Putting harmful substances in a locked cabinet, or even up high, out of a toddler’s reach are a good idea, but some children like to climb up high.  The E.R. is often buzzing with kids who got into their parents prescription meds from a medicine chest or even reaching into a purse.   In determining the source of a tummy ache, look around your home first because, depending on the amount of dangerous substance ingested, any type of substance should be deemed poisonous.

Miscellaneous maladies

Your child sometimes picks the wrong time to be verbal.  When you’d like them to help pinpoint the source of the pain, they might clam up.  Some other reasons for abdominal pain would be:

  • Bladder infection – Abdominal pain might be associated with trouble urinating, or painful or frequent urination.
  • Rash – Sometimes a new rash may be accompanied by abdominal pain – luckily, as least a rash is easy to discover.

Time and chicken soup

When a trip to the doctor or hospital is not necessary, you can help your child deal with abdominal pain by having them rest.  The best position is lying face down to alleviate gas pain, but leave it up to your child.

If bed rest, time and chicken soup has not cured your child’s ills, then your next stop should be a trip to the pediatrician, or, better still – a gastroenterologist in Queens.