About stomach pain or ache
Stomach pain in children is very often caused by wind and indigestion, neither of which is serious.
Anxiety or stress can cause ‘butterflies’ in the tummy.
Severe stomach pain might be caused by more serious or surgical illnesses like appendicitis or intussusception, which is when part of the stomach slides into or over itself.
In adolescent girls, stomach pain can have several gynaecological causes, including a twisted ovary, ectopic pregnancy and period pain.
Sometimes stomach pain is called functional abdominal pain. In these cases, nerve signals or chemicals might be making your child’s stomach more sensitive to normal triggers like gas.
Symptoms related to stomach pain
The symptoms that come with stomach pain vary depending on what’s causing the stomach pain.
Cramps and general pain might be associated with excess wind and bloating.
Tummy pain that doesn’t go away could be constipation or a urinary tract infection. Children with a urinary tract infection, might also have pain when doing a wee, be doing more wees than normal, and might have a fever, be vomiting and feel irritable.
A sore tummy is more likely to be a sign of something serious if it wakes your child up, or if the pain is in a specific area of the abdomen, away from your child’s belly button. For example, in appendicitis, the pain is usually sharp, and the pain often starts in the middle then moves to the lower right section of the abdomen. Your child might also have fever, loss of appetite and vomiting.
With all types of stomach pain, there’s a risk that your child will become dehydrated. You should watch for signs of dehydration, including sunken eyes, less wee than usual, lethargy and weight loss. If your child shows these signs, make sure they're drinking enough fluids.
Does your child need to see a doctor about stomach pain?
You should take your child to see your GP if your child:
- complains of severe pain in the tummy or it wakes them from sleep
- has tummy pain that doesn’t go away, or that keeps coming and going
- is unwell or has a fever in addition to the pain
- complains that the pain gets worse when they move
- has diarrhoea or vomiting that doesn’t go away
- is losing weight or has pain that affects their energy levels.
Take your child to a hospital emergency department straight away if your child has:
- bloody or bright green vomit
- blood in their poo.
If you think your child has swallowed something poisonous, call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 125 for advice.
Treatment for stomach pain
To help your child feel more comfortable, you can give paracetamol in the recommended dose and frequency. If your child has more than the recommended dose, it can cause liver damage.
It’s also important to make sure that your child gets enough fluids and plenty of rest. Distracting your child from the pain and using relaxation strategies can help too.
Do not give your child aspirin for any reason. Aspirin can make your child susceptible to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal illness. It can also cause serious illness or even death in children with chickenpox or flu symptoms.