Stomach ache, is a common childhood complaint. Everything from the flu to school avoidance will bring on the claim of a bellyache. Being able to distinguish between various types of stomach aches is a parents crusade.

Typically, a stomach ache that is brought on by stress, fear, school phobia, etc. appears suddenly and is very hard to comfort. If the stress is eliminated (you don't have to go to school today) the pain usually leaves abruptly or only lingers a bit as a vague ache. This pain is not in most cases contrived - it is real, related to acid production, often in families with histories of "sensitive stomachs" or ulcers and can be seen in very young children (age 3 and up). The "cure" is reassurance, understanding, teaching relaxation, fixing whatever stresses can be fixed (a bully in school can be behind many a school "phobia" and the attendant stress belly ache - speak to the teachers) and sometimes a dose of antacids will provide enough temporary relief to get your child out of a major moaning episode. Obviously this is not all that needs to be done since these aches will return with the next stress but it is an immediate method of relief and a great comfort to both the child and the parent. Some stomach aches are the result of dietary indiscretions like too much candy at the fair. These aches are usually accompanied by passing gas and cramps that get better after a bowel movement (often diarrhea) happens. Antacids for children may also help here as well as a tummy rub while sitting your child on the toilet. Keep your eyes open at parties and picnics for what your child is eating - especially avoid under cooked meats and mayonnaise containing salads - these can lead to far worse than just a stomach ache. If in fact your child's pain is excessive and also comes with vomiting or diarrhea or fever, see a doctor and take a sample of the food with you if possible. There are bacteria that can cause this that require immediate and vigorous medical treatment and time is important. Very unusual reasons for stomach aches exist - strep throat infection, bladder infection, hiatus hernia, and the most well known and feared reason, appendicitis. Appendicitis is not rare but also not common. A child with developing appendicitis may only complain about a vague stomach ache at first but then the pain will generally move from the "stomach area" to the lower right side of the abdomen and become very sharp and almost unbearable. Some children vomit once or twice and usually do not have a fever but if your child's pain is becoming more severe, let the doctor examine him. It is sometimes hard even for the doctor to tell the difference between a stomach flu and appendicitis but there are tricks and tools that doctors have to help tell the difference so don't delay getting help. Usually an appendicitis attack takes many hours to become an emergency but it is unpredictable.

Most stomach aches are brief, relieved by simple comforts like tea and a tummy rub, or a bowel movement (even constipation can cause stomach aches), and do not represent serious illness. Always evaluate the severity of your child's pain by checking if distraction or reassurance helps and if it does and your child can get up and walk comfortably, you can safely wait it out a while unless symptoms worsen. Avoid food during a belly ache and stick to clear room temperature liquids.


A common childhood complaint, everything from school avoidance to serious intestinal disease can be the reason for a complaint of stomach ache. Most simple stomach aches are located in the centre of the abdomen and are dull or cramp in description and come and go rather than remaining steady and unremitting for long periods.

Usual causes

In the case of stomach aches from nervous tension or dietary indiscretion (too much candy at the party), pain lasts for under 2 hours and resolves with little intervention, and maybe a large, loose bowel movement. Children's antacids may be helpful as l long as vomiting is not part of the picture in which case a physician should be contacted before any treatment is given. Clear room temperature liquids such as flat soda or tea can help to relieve pain.

Other causes

There are other unusual causes for similar abdominal pain that need attention. Strep throat, bladder infections, hiatus hernia, and the early stages of appendicitis can all look like simple stomach aches. A child with developing appendicitis may only co plain about a vague stomach ache at first but then the pain will generally move from the "stomach area" to the lower right side of the abdomen and become very sharp and almost unbearable. Some children vomit once or twice and usually do not have a fever.

When to call the doctor

If your child's pain is not responding to the usual comforts or if there is associated vomiting or diarrhea a call to the doctor may be very helpful. Any pain that is sharp and prevents your child from walking even with encouragement necessitates a doctor's attention. If your child has a bloody or tarry stool with abdominal pain see your doctor immediately. Pain that radiates to the back or makes urinating difficult is also a cause for concern.

Safety tips

Keep alert at picnics and parties for what your child is eating - especially avoid undercooked meats and anything containing mayonnaise - these foods can lead to far worse than a temporary belly ache. If you believe your child has eaten spoiled food take a sample with you. Some alterations in a child's diet can relieve recurrent abdominal pain once you are sure there is no more serious cause for the repeated episodes. Elimination of dairy, excessive amounts of sweets, and in some cases reduction of starch if your child gets easily constipated can change the day to day comfort level.


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