Tummy troubles are common in young children and typically aren’t serious. Stomachaches can be anything from constipation to stomach flu to an excuse to get out of school. The tricky part is figuring out if the stomach pain is something serious that warrants a trip to the doctor or if it is a passing thing. Here are some common childhood tummy troubles and what to do about them.
It’s common for kids to have occasional constipation. This is usually something that can be improved by a higher fiber diet or by using over-the-counter stool softeners or laxatives. Decreasing foods that cause constipation like bananas, milk, and cheese can also be helpful. Physical activity can also encourage the need to use the bathroom. If your child has chronic constipation that is not improving, speak to your doctor for more suggestions, or ask for a referral to a gastrointestinal physician.
The stomach flu is an unavoidable part of childhood. Even with all the hand sanitizer in the world, your child is bound to catch it at some point. While a GI bug is miserable for both the parents and the child, it doesn’t usually warrant a trip to the doctor. During the virus, it’s normal to have a fever, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. The most important thing to remember during a stomach bug is to keep your child hydrated. Children, especially babies and toddlers, are more likely to get dehydrated during the stomach flu, which can be dangerous. If your child cannot eat during the flu, make sure he is drinking small sips of clear liquids as much as possible. If the bug persists longer than a few days and you feel your child is becoming dehydrated, see your child’s doctor as soon as possible.
A common cause of stomach pain in children comes from trapped gas. Gas pain can be excruciating or make your child uncomfortable. If your child has frequent pain from gas, try changing his diet slightly. For example, many people with frequent gas are lactose intolerant. Reducing the intake of dairy products or trying lactose-free alternatives can help your child develop less gas-related stomach pain.
Acid reflux, or heartburn, can be painful and persistent. If your child complains of a burning feeling in his upper abdomen or has a vomit taste in his mouth, he may be experiencing acid reflux. Try an over-the-counter antacid, a glass of milk, or prop up his pillow at night. You can also watch the foods he eats before bedtime. Acidic foods like tomato sauce, chocolate, sugary, sweet, and spicy foods can all be triggers for heartburn. If none of these ideas help, consult your doctor, who can prescribe medication for acid reflux and make sure nothing more serious is going on.
For the most part, childhood stomach pains are not anything to be concerned about. However, if your child has symptoms that persist over time, has unexplained weight loss, has blood in his vomit or stool, or doesn’t seem to be improving, there is nothing wrong with reaching out to your family doctor for advice on what the next steps should be.
When to Go to the Doctor
Not all tummy troubles should be brushed off. Here are some “red flags” that should have you speaking to a doctor.
Severe pain: If your child’s stomach pain is severe and he cannot be distracted from the pain, it’s best to have him checked out by your doctor.
Blood: If your child has blood in his stool or vomit, check in with your doctor
Hives or swelling: If your child has hives or swelling of his face, this could be a sign of anaphylaxis. Call 9-1-1 immediately.
Lower right side pain: This could be appendicitis, or it could be nothing you need to worry about. In this case, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Give your doctor a call or head to the hospital.
Painful urination: Pain during urination could be caused by a urinary tract infection, which your child will need antibiotics in order to treat it.
Weight loss: It’s normal to lose a little weight due to a stomach flu, but if your child has significant weight loss, make an appointment with your physician to make sure nothing else is going on.
No improvement: If your child has had diarrhea, fever, severe cough, or vomiting with no improvement for days, it’s always the best practice to give your child’s doctor a call and make sure nothing more serious is going on.
For more information on common tummy troubles and what to do, visit health.harvard.edu.