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Pediatric - Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain

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Does this describe your child's symptoms?

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Anatomy - Gastrointestinal
Anatomy - Gastrointestinal

First Aid - Shock
First Aid - Shock

  • Pain or discomfort located between the bottom of the rib cage and the groin crease
  • The older child complains of a stomachache
  • The younger child should at least point to or hold the abdomen


  • Indigestion: Indigestion or overeating causes many mild stomachaches 
  • Gastroenteritis: A viral infection of the intestines causes stomach cramps as well as vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Food Poisoning: Severe vomiting and/or diarrhea lasting less than 12 hours is often due to bacterial overgrowth in unrefrigerated foods
  • Constipation: The need to pass a BM causes lower abdominal cramps
  • Strep: A strep throat causes up to 10% of acute abdominal pain
  • Serious Causes: These include appendicitis, kidney infections and intussusception

If not, see these topics
  • CONSTIPATION present and is the main symptom
  • DIARRHEA present and is the main symptom
  • URINATION PAIN present and abdominal pain is mild
  • VOMITING (or child feels like needs to vomit) is the main symptom
  • Crying and not sure what's causing it, see CRYING

When to Call Your Doctor

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
  • Not moving or too weak to stand
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You suspect poisoning with a plant, medicine, or chemical
  • Unable to walk or walks bent over holding the abdomen
  • Pain mainly low on the right side
  • Pain or swelling in the scrotum or testicle (Male)
  • Could be pregnant (Female)
  • Severe pain anywhere
  • Constant pain (or crying) present over 2 hours
  • Blood in the bowel movements or vomiting blood
  • Vomiting bile (bright yellow or green)
  • Recent injury to the abdomen
  • Age under 2 years
  • Fever over 104° F (40° C) and not improved 2 hours after fever medicine
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Mild pain that comes and goes (cramps) lasts over 24 hours
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Abdominal pains are a recurrent chronic problem
Parent Care at Home If
  • Mild abdominal pain and you don't think your child needs to be seen

  1. Reassurance:
    • A mild stomachache can be caused by something as simple as gas pains or overeating.
    • Sometimes a stomachache signals the onset of a vomiting or diarrhea illness from a virus (gastroenteritis).
    • Watching your child for 2 hours will usually tell you the cause.
  2. Rest: Encourage your child to lie down and rest until feeling better.
  3. Clear Fluids: Offer clear fluids only (e.g., water, flat soft drinks or half-strength Gatorade). For mild pain, offer a regular diet.
  4. Prepare for Vomiting: Keep a vomiting pan handy. Younger children often refer to nausea as a "stomachache".
  5. Pass a BM: Encourage sitting on the toilet and trying to pass a bowel movement (BM). This may relieve pain if it is due to constipation or impending diarrhea. (Note: for constipation, sitting in warm water may relax the anus and help release a BM)
  6. Avoid Medicines: Any drug (especially ibuprofen) could irritate the stomach lining and make the pain worse. Do not give any pain medicines or laxatives for stomach cramps. For fever over 102° F (39° C), acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be given.
  7. Expected Course: With harmless causes, the pain is usually better or resolved in 2 hours. With gastroenteritis (stomach flu), belly cramps may precede each bout of vomiting or diarrhea and last several days. With serious causes (such as appendicitis), the pain worsens and becomes constant.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Pain becomes severe
    • Constant pain present over 2 hours
    • Mild pain that comes and goes present over 24 hours
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 1/19/2009

Last Revised: 12/19/2008

Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Online

Copyright 1994-2009 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

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