About stomach pain or ache
Stomach pain in children is very often caused by wind and indigestion, neither of which is serious.
A sore tummy might also be a sign of infections like food poisoning, gastroenteritis, pneumonia or urinary tract infections.
Anxiety or stress can cause ‘butterflies’ in the tummy.
Severe stomach pain might be caused by more serious illnesses like appendicitis or intussusception, which is when part of the intestine slides into or over itself.
Tummy pain that keeps coming back might be associated with constipation, food intolerances or inflammation in the gut.
In adolescent girls, stomach pain can be caused by reproductive issues, including period pain, a twisted ovary and ectopic pregnancy.
Sometimes stomach pain is functional abdominal pain. This means that the stomach is very sensitive, even to the normal movement of food through the digestive system.
Symptoms related to stomach pain
The symptoms that come with stomach pain depend on what’s causing the stomach pain.
For example, if the stomach pain comes with symptoms like loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, the problem could be gastroenteritis or food poisoning.
Stomach cramps and general stomach pain might be associated with food intolerance, excess wind, indigestion 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 and be doing more wees than normal. They might also have a fever, be vomiting and feel irritable.
Tummy pain might also be associated with pneumonia or other respiratory infections. In this case, your child will probably also have a fever, cough and possibly a sore throat.
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 urination than usual, lethargy and weight loss.
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 green vomit
- blood in their poo
- symptoms of severe dehydration, including little or no urination, weight loss, tiredness and extreme thirst.
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 or ibuprofen according to the instructions on the packet.
It’s also important to make sure that your child gets enough fluids to prevent dehydration, as well as 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.