Abdominal pain in children – which isn’t bad enough to warrant an emergency visit, but enough to disrupt school and activities – is a common presentation in my clinic, and such a frustration for parents. It can go on for months or even years, and I frequently see families who have had tried complex tests and diets without a clear diagnosis or any real improvement.
The solution? Start with the basics. Figure out what it is, or what it’s not. Three of the common causes of children’s stomach pain are:
- Mesenteric Adenitis: Inflammation of the lymph glands in the stomach area due to infection, such as a viral illness, commonly causes mild temporary stomach pain for children. Children are frequently exposed to new bugs and their developing immune systems react appropriately by building new immune memory cells, which can cause gut discomfort. The good news is, this is easily treated with simple pain medication and your child will grow out of it.
- Constipation: Causes of constipation can vary and an examination and a simple x-ray can help identify what’s going on. A dairy protein allergy is a frequently identified cause of constipation, but chronic constipation – which can present as loose liquid motion, the ‘overflow’ of a very slow functioning bowel full of hard stools – may require a trial of softener or a specific laxative.
- Stress: Our nervous system is very powerful and will shut down the gut when under threat, so children – who are particularly sensitive to emotional changes – can often present stress as physical symptoms. Professional emotional support for children and their families can help and may often be enough to improve the symptoms.
Every parent is worried they will miss the signs of a serious illness, so if your child isn’t gaining weight or meeting expected growth and development milestones, has mucous or blood in their stool, is in moderate to severe pain or has a fever, a medical review and tests are required. Otherwise, sit down with your doctor and have a conversation about the potential causes of your child’s stomach pain and the necessary tests and make a plan.