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Monday, March 24, 2014 - Tips for deciphering your child’s belly pain

Tips for deciphering your child’s belly pain

By Kathleen Swayne, M.D.

Almost all children experience pain in the abdomen at one time or another. While most of the time, it is not caused by a serious medical problem, “stomachache” is one of the most common reasons parents take their children to the ER or pediatrician’s office. Abdominal pain can be tricky to diagnose in children without taking a complete history of the pain and associated symptoms, conducting a thorough physical exam, and sometimes conducting further medical tests. There are many potential causes including emotional issues, eating certain foods, gastrointestinal upset, flu, constipation, infections, food poisoning, muscle strain and just ordinary gas pains.

Every parent’s fear ─ appendicitis

As a pediatrician, many parents tell me their common worry when their children suffer from stomachaches is appendicitis. In reality, only a very small percentage of pediatric stomach pain cases are ultimately diagnosed with this condition. But, appendicitis symptoms can present similarly to the common stomach flu ─ belly pain in the lower right abdomen, vomiting, loss of appetite and fever. It is most common in children over age 10 (but can be seen in children much younger), and up to 50 percent have a family history of the condition. Appendicitis may be diagnosed during a physical examination and an ultrasound of the abdomen or a CT scan, in addition to blood and urine tests are used to confirm the diagnosis. The good news is that the appendix can usually be removed using minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery that allows for faster recovery, less scarring and blood loss.

Simple ways to relieve a stomachache

Here are some tips to help relieve an upset stomach:

  • Don't give an over-the-counter pain reliever that could aggravate or mask important symptoms.
  • Encourage drinking water or clear fluids; avoid milk or dairy products which can exacerbate the abdominal pain.
  • If vomiting, withhold solid foods for a few hours and later offer a few crackers, dry toast, applesauce or plain rice, after fluids are tolerated.
  • Keep your child resting on the coach or in bed to minimize movement.
  • Place a warm cloth or a heating pad on the belly for about 20 minutes.

More serious symptoms that require medical attention

If you observe a steady worsening of your child’s pain, it is time to seek medical attention. In addition, if your child exhibits any of these symptoms, you should also call your doctor: worsening pain that has moved position; sustained fever or chills; vomiting for more than 24 hours; severe diarrhea; refusal to eat or drink; blood in urine or stool; or skin rash. Though most tummy woes are likely to pass, recognizing some of the most worrisome signs, and knowing when to call the doctor, will make both you and your child feel better sooner.

CentraState Medical Center’s Pediatrics Department offers a warm and family-friendly environment supported by a specially-trained team of physicians, nurses and clinicians. In emergency situations, the Pediatric Emergency Department provides a separate treatment area reserved exclusively for children which is overseen by an on-site pediatrician.

If you are looking for a board-certified pediatrician, call CentraState’s Physician Finder at (866) CENTRA7; send an email to physicianfinder@centrastate.com or search online at centrastate.com/pediatrics.

Dr. Swayne is a board-certified pediatrician on staff at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold. She may be reached at Pediatric Health, PA by calling (732) 780- 3333.