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Abdominal Pain: When to Worry

Kristie Rivers, MD, FAAP, Board Certified Pediatrician
January 3, 2019 . 2 min read

“My tummy hurts.”

What parent hasn’t heard this complaint from their child from time to time? It can be difficult to know when it is just a stomachache and when you should seek out medical care for your child. Look for some of these symptoms that may require a doctor visit.

1. If the abdominal pain is accompanied by vomiting, but not diarrhea. Usually a stomach virus causes fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, but pediatricians often become concerned that something more serious is going on if there is no diarrhea to accompany the other symptoms.

2. If your child is unable to move from a lying to a sitting position because of the pain. If you notice that your child is lying very still and doesn’t want to move around, something may be going on. Often children who have a serious problem are unable to jump up and down because they are in so much pain. Your doctor may ask if your child cried every time the car went over a bump on the way into the office, a telltale sign of problems beyond just a simple tummy ache.

3. If the abdomen looks very full and distended. Sometimes a parent’s intuition is the most reliable sign. If your child’s belly looks bigger and refuses to let you touch it because of the pain, head to the doctor.

4. If your child vomits material that is green or bloody.

5. If your child points specifically to the right lower part of the abdomen. This could indicate appendicitis, which requires immediate surgery.

6. If your child develops diarrhea that has blood or mucous in it. This could indicate a bacterial infection or even a surgical emergency, so it needs to be checked out by a pediatrician right away.

If your child consistently complains of pain for more than a few days but does not have any of the above symptoms, visit your pediatrician anyway. While it may turn out to be nothing serious, you will have peace of mind knowing that your child is healthy.

Sources:

  • American Academy of Family Physicians
  • Acute Abdominal Pain in Children.

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