Abdominal Pain in Kids: What To Do and When to Get Help

The worst part about being a parent is not knowing what to do when our little ones are sick. When our little babes have stomach pain (abdominal pain) it is really tricky to know what is causing it, if it is serious or how worried we should be. That is why we have put together an abdominal pain guide for you, covering the most common causes of abdominal pain in our kids, what you can do at home to make them more comfortable and red flags for when you should seek medical help.


Abdominal pain is one of the common reasons parents bring their children to the Emergency Department (ED). 5-10 % of ED yearly presentations are due to abdominal pain. These presentations vary between being sudden onset in nature, re-occurring or chronic abdominal pain.


The cause of abdominal pain can vary from ‘simple’ issues such as gas, or something more serious like appendicitis or bowel obstruction, either way it can be very painful for our little babes and can be scary for us parents to know what to do and when to be worried.


There are many things that can cause abdominal pain, check out our list of common causes and what we can do at home to help


Constipation

A leading cause of abdominal pain in kids. It is caused from a decrease or lack of bowel movements. Bowel movements are firm, making them painful when they come out.


Infections

The most common being Gastroenteritis (gastro). We all know this one. It causes diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and a sore tummy. Urinary tract infection (UTI) is another cause of abdominal pain and is often associated with vomiting, fevers, pain on urination or more frequent urinating and pain in the lower abdomen.


Mesenteric adenitis

This quite common and is caused from a viral infection and is when the lymph nodes in the abdomen are enlarged.


Surgical issues

Including appendicitis and bowel obstruction. Surgical issues are the more serious abdominal pain causes, check out our red flag list below for signs to be worried about.


Period pain

This can be before during and after menstruation.


Stress or anxiety

This is a tricky one but very common in kids. If you suspect this is the case, give your child some extra love and support and provide comfort with heat packs. Children may feel sick in the stomach when they are worried about themselves or someone around them. It could be related to school, home, or friends. Speak to your GP for advice.


Other causes

Food poisoning, over eating and allergies or intolerances. These can be associated with vomiting and diarrhoea also.


Unknown

Reoccurring non specific abdominal pain in children occurs in 10-15 % of children, more commonly in primary school kids. Often no cause is found.


What to do if a child has tummy pain?

  • Fluids, fluids, fluids. Your child might not be up to eating much, but ensure they are getting enough fluid to avoid dehydration.

  • Eat whatever- if they are hungry, let them eat whatever they want. If they are not hungry, offer them bland foods like crackers or toast. Do not force them though, they will eat when they feel better.

  • Distraction: rubbing their belly, sitting on the toilet, reading a book or watching a movie can help ease the pain.

  • Give pain relief if your child has pain or they are miserable. Be sure to remember the times you have given the medications. We recommend medication trackers from fellow Paed Nurse, Penny from Sick Happens.

  • Rest and comfort like a comfy blanket and a nice warm heat pack can help ease a sore stomach. Check out our BODYIce Kids reusable heat packs.



When to get help?


Reassuringly, often kids get tummy pain and within 24 hours they are running around like their normal self. If they are not better within 24 hours or you are worried about the take them to your GP.


RED FLAGS - if your child has any of the following take them to a GP or hospital as soon as possible:

  • Severe pain despite pain medication use or if the pain has moved

  • Regular and frequent pain

  • Does not want to move due to the pain.

  • Has a fever (temperature over 38 degrees)

  • Is pale, sweaty, lethargic and unwell looking

  • Refusing to drink

  • Is vomiting for more than 24 hours and not keeping any fluids down

  • Has green vomit

  • Has an underlying health condition

  • Has blood in their vomit of faeces

  • Is not passing urine

  • Has a rash which is sore

  • Has had a recent injury that has effected their abdomen- e.g. falling onto handle bars of a bike

  • If they are a baby and have had less than 4 wet nappies in 24 hours.


REMEMBER….


Abdominal pain is more likely to be a sign of something serious if it wakes your child up at night or if the pain is in a particular spot in the abdomen, not a generalised pain or feeling of being unwell. This could be a sign of something more serious like appendicitis that can cause sharp pain, which often starts in the middle of the stomach and moves to the lower right side. Your child may also have a fever, loss of appetite and vomit. Your child may also complain of increased pain to their tummy, and be uncomfortable when sitting upright or standing up, they might not want to move because of the pain.


As always if you are worried seek profession medical help, and if your child is in pain, give them pain relief. Often parents think this is going to mask the symptoms, but this is truly not the case. If anything it will help the medical professional assess how your child is with some pain relief on board and will allow them to hopefully be able to assess your little one better.


Abdomen pain in kids is common; most kids get better themselves with some rest and time. Ensure your child drinks plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and seek help if you are worried or your child has any red flags.




References


kidshealth.org

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

rch.org.au

raisingchildren.net.au

healthdirect.gov.au

https://www.childrens.health.qld.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/PDF/guidelines/gdl-00704.pdf


Written on the 2nd of May 2022 by Laura, a Paediatric Emergency Nurse and mum of two little loves. As always, information on this website is for educational purposes only.

Please consult your GP for information specific to your child.

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