Abdominal Pain: Is It Serious?

One of the most common physical complaints brought to pediatricians is abdominal pain. As a parent, you know the chances your child's tummy ache is appendicitis are slim, but you don't want to take chances, either. It's more probable your child ate too much fast food or is a bundle of nerves over tomorrow's math test, but how do you determine the cause of your child's pain? How do you know it's not an emergency?

Doctor Thoughts

The best thing a parent can do whenever their child is ill is to start thinking like a doctor. If your child's stomach pain doesn't resolve, you'll need to seek medical help, so you'll want to be ready for the questions your doctor will ask. How severe is the pain? Does it hurt all the time, or only sometimes? Does anything make your child feel better? What makes the pain worse? Does the pain come only at mealtimes or close to the time your child eats? Does your child's stomach hurt only during school? Does the pain come at any specific time? Is your child's pain so bad it keeps him from playing? Does your child have fever, diarrhea, constipation, or gas? Just getting a good idea of the exact nature of your child's complaint can go very far in helping you understand whether or not the problem is an emergency.

Sometimes a child will have a benign stomach ache that lasts throughout childhood. This often begins in the preschool years, around the age of 5 and is more common in girls. The pain is located in the area around the navel and may be severe though limited in nature, never lasting for much more than an hour and sometimes only a few minutes. The child seems otherwise healthy and the pain doesn't prevent the child from play or other activities.

Daily Event

Most often, there isn't any vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, or fever. The pain doesn't awaken the child. For some, the pain is a daily event, for others the pain comes once a week or every couple of weeks.

Children who have this kind of recurrent tummy ache tend to be shy and have a fear of failure. They are sometimes labeled underachievers.

Appendicitis, on the other hand, is an emergency. In general, the discomfort begins around the navel, then moves down to the lower right side, halfway between the navel and the pelvic bone. If you press down on your child's stomach, your child gasps in pain, but the pain seems worst when you lift your hand. This is called "rebound tenderness." Your child may find it hard to walk, or walk bent over. Appendicitis is a first class emergency. Get your child to an emergency room, fast.

B.R.A.T. Diet

For minor stomach distress or a stomach virus, the key to feeling better is to expel the contents of the stomach. Keep your child on an easy-to-digest B.R.A.T. diet of ripe Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, dry or (Melba) Toast, (and Jell-O), until he's fine for 24 hours.

Call your doctor if: 

*Pain is severe

*Pain is recurrent

*There is fever in addition to abdominal pain

*It hurts more when your child moves

*There is diarrhea or vomiting

*There is blood in your child's stools

*You suspect your child has ingested a poisonous substance