3 Surprising Causes of Stomach Pain in Kids

Children complaining of stomach pain is common, and some sources – like constipation, food allergies or even appendicitis – are obvious.

But a few illnesses might not come to mind first when considering the source of a child’s stomachache. Here is information from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) about some causes of stomach aches that might surprise parents.

Strep throat
Even though this diagnosis is tied to another relatively distant body part, strep throat can also cause stomach pain.

An infection caused by a bacterium called streptococci, strep throat’s more obvious symptoms are a sore throat and fever, and sometimes vomiting or headaches.

Parents who suspect their child has strep throat should visit the pediatrician, who will swab the child’s throat to test for bacteria. If positive, the physician will prescribe antibiotics.


Urinary tract infection (UTI)
Though the tell-tale sign of a UTI is pain and burning during urination, these infections can also cause discomfort in the abdomen.

UTIs are a common ailment in children, with more than 1.3 million children treated annually for the condition. Girls ages 1 to 5 are more likely than other children to experience a UTI.

Parents who suspect their child has such an infection should visit the pediatrician, who will prescribe an antibiotic following a positive diagnosis.

Learn how to prevent UTIs in children.

Emotional upset
Stomach pain can also be the result of sadness, stress or anxiety. Though this type of pain is more common in school-age children, children younger than 5 under unusual stress may also experience it.

Parents should carefully assess the child for other symptoms that might indicate an illness such as fever, vomiting, weakness, pain while urinating, sore throat or diarrhea. If none of those are present, consider other aspects, like timing: Does it wax and wane over a period of more than a week, and surface around activities that are unpleasant or stressful?

A lack of other physical symptoms and pain with curious timing could point to emotional upset. In this case, talk to the child about what’s bothering them. A pediatrician can also suggest ways to help, and, if necessary, refer the child to a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.

When to call the doctor

No matter the source, stomachaches should be taken seriously. Not all aches require a doctor’s appointment, but here are some signs from the AAP that medical attention is necessary:

  • Abdominal pain that comes on suddenly or persists
  • The child has other symptoms, such as a change in his bowel pattern, vomiting, fever (temperature of 100.4°F or higher), sore throat or headache
  • A baby younger than 1 year shows signs of stomach pain such as legs pulled up toward the abdomen or unusual crying
  • A child aged 4 or younger has recurrent stomachache
  • If abdominal pain awakes a child or stops him from sleeping
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Kids and Stomachaches

stomach_ache_boyFACT OR FICTION?

“No matter what the cause of the stomachache, the pain is real,” says Dr. Mitchell Katz. So what causes tummy  trouble?  It can be as specific as an ulcer, a dietary issue, pneumonia or a sinus infection. “Stomachaches are extraordinarily common. Although always a concern, the majority of kids with abdominal pain do not require urgent intervention,” says Dr. Katz.

INSPECTOR GASTRO

To decide how serious the pain is and whether it’s organic (like an ulcer or appendicitis) or non-organic (like stress), parents need to pay attention to the location. “If the pain is under the belly button there is a greater likelihood that the pain is nonorganic than if it is further away from the belly button,” says Dr. Katz.

Other common causes of  abdominal issues:

  • GI tract infection
  • Acid reflux
  • Constipation

MEDS OR MEDICAL ATTENTION?

Parents have to take a step back and judge the severity of the pain when deciding to give their child medications for stomach issues, says Dr. Katz. “If they think the issues are due to something as simple as a few missed bowel movements, there’s no harm in a stool softener. If significant pain is present, it’s always better to call your primary care provider to talk about the condition,” says Dr. Katz.

WHEN WILL THE ACHE GO AWAY?

“The vast majority of stomachaches can be diagnosed and dealt with after an appropriate history and physical examination,” says Dr. Katz. If these red flags are present, call your doctor:

  • Blood in stool
  • Change in appetite, body weight
  • Pain that interrupts sleep
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

FAST FACTS

  • The age range in which most cases of appendicitis occur: 10-30 Years Old
  • The number of hours that heartburn can last: 2 Hours
  • The number of Americans that develop at least one ulcer during their lifetime: 25 Million

View the full feature on Kids and Stomachaches

Dr. Mitchell Katz Pediatric Gastroenterologist
Dr. Mitchell Katz
Pediatric Gastroenterologist

PHYSICIAN FOCUS: DR. MITCHELL KATZ

Dr. Katz is currently director of CHOC’s multidisciplinary feeding team, pediatric GI lab services, and the division of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition. He was a fellow in pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at the University of California, San Francisco and is a five-time recipient of the Orange County Medical Association’s Physician of Excellence award.

Dr. Katz’s philosophy of care: “Listening carefully to the child and the parent. Explore where the child and the family are in life and understand the interrelation between health and emotional well-being.”

EDUCATION:
State University of New York at Downstate Medical School

BOARD CERTIFICATIONS:
Pediatrics and Pediatric Gastroenterology

More about Dr. Katz

This article was featured in the Orange County Register on October 27, 2013 and was written by Shaleek Wilson.