Stomach & Abdominal Pain

Complaints of upset tummies and stomachaches are extremely common among children and teens. In most cases, the cause is minor and parents can expect the problem to clear up on its own.

Common causes of stomach pain include:

  • Constipation
  • Indigestion
  • Bacterial or viral infection
  • Food allergies
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Stress

However, there are times when stomach pain is caused by a more serious illness or condition. If your child experiences any of the following symptoms, contact your child's doctor right away:

  • Stomach or abdominal pain that lasts longer than three hours
  • Severe, persistent pain
  • Pain that wakes your child from sleep
  • Persistent nausea and/or vomiting
  • Vomit that is green or contains blood
  • Stools that are bloody or black and tar-like
  • Pain while urinating or blood in urine
  • Severe fatigue
  • High fever and/or rash
  • Extreme paleness or skin that appears yellow
  • Swelling of the abdomen or tenderness to the touch
  • Lumps in the groin or pain in the scrotum or testicle
  • Pressure or pain in the chest

Keep in mind that you know your child better than anyone, so if you suspect the problem might be something serious, call your doctor.

Be sure to ask your child the exact location of the pain, whether it's sharp and sudden or dull and achy, and how long it's been hurting. These are all things you should communicate with your doctor. When your child first starts to complain of stomach pain, pay attention to things that could be making the problem better or worse.

Do not give your child pain medication, laxatives or enemas without consulting your doctor. Pain medications could mask a more serious problem like appendicitis, and laxatives and enemas could cause your child more severe pain and cramping - always check with your doctor first.

To care for a stomachache at home, encourage your child to rest quietly and drink small, frequent sips of water or other clear fluids (avoid sports drinks and high-sugar beverages). Sitting on the toilet to encourage bowel movement might help relieve some of the pain. Also consider placing a heating pad on the stomach for 15-20 minutes at a time, especially if the pain is caused by menstrual cramps.

To help prevent stomachaches, encourage your child to always wash their hands before eating and after going to the bathroom. Don't let them eat right before going to sleep, and teach them good nutrition (that's high in fiber) and proper portion control, as overeating and indulging in junk food and carbonated beverages can lead to indigestion or constipation.

For more information about pediatric digestive conditions, consult these additional resources:
A website from the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders

Healthy Children
A website from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Children's Digestive Health and Nutrition Foundation

Pediatric Gastroenterology