Stomachaches are a common part of childhood. For parents, figuring out if a child’s tummy pain needs medical care can be tricky.
“My tummy hurts!” What parent hasn’t heard that phrase from their child? In some families, it’s a frequent occurrence. In a survey for the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, 1 in 6 parents of children ages 3–10 reported their child said they had stomach pain at least once a month.
Not every tummy ache is a sign of something serious or that needs medical attention. In some cases, though, stomach pain is a red flag parents shouldn’t ignore, and seeking care from a medical provider is the right move.
Many Causes of Childhood Stomach Pain
A wide range of conditions and factors can cause stomach pain in kids. Gas, for example, can lead to stomach cramps, which are uncomfortable but rarely serious. Bloating and swallowing air can also cause tummy discomfort.
In some cases, stomach pain is a sign of a condition needing medical care. Stomach discomfort may be a symptom of:
- Anxiety or depression
- Food intolerance, such as celiac disease
- Food poisoning
- Strep throat
- Urinary tract infection
Signs Your Child Needs Medical Care
Determining whether your child should see a medical provider for stomach pain can take a little detective work. Use a look-or-listen approach, depending on your child’s age. For a baby, look for signs of a bellyache, such as fussiness and curling the legs up to the stomach. If you have an older child, listen when they complain of stomach pain, and ask what the discomfort feels like and when and how often it occurs.
Watch closely for indications that your child needs to see a medical provider about stomach pain, including:
- Blood in the stool
- Poor appetite for a day or more
- Repeated diarrhea
- Repeated vomiting
- Stomach discomfort that spreads from the belly button to the lower right side of the abdomen
- Stomach pain that’s intense or getting worse
- Symptoms of dehydration
- Symptoms that persist for or worsen over three to five hours, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics
Most children’s stomachaches clear up without medical care. If your child’s symptoms don’t appear to warrant professional help, take steps to help them feel better while you wait for their tummy ache to pass.
First, make your child comfortable in bed or on the couch, and encourage them to rest quietly. Put on soothing music or read a favorite story to help them relax. Don’t give over-the-counter medication to relieve pain or other symptoms without getting approval from your child’s pediatrician or regular medical provider.
Encourage your child to drink water to stay hydrated. After a few hours, offer foods that aren’t likely to irritate your child’s stomach, such as crackers or toast. Ensuring your child gets plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich foods, and water, and leads an active lifestyle, can help reduce the risk of stomach issues in the future.
Concerned about your child’s stomach pain? Find an urgent care location near you.