Abdominal pain in child, what are the complaints and possible causes of abdominal pain in child? Whether your child is 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 years old or older, abdominal pain is a common complaint in children of all ages. About ten to twenty percent of children of primary school age regularly suffer from it. Abdominal pain is often accompanied by other complaints, such as nausea, constipation or diarrhea. Girls suffer from stomach ache more often than boys. In this article we discuss the most common causes of abdominal pain in children. Both chronic abdominal pain and acute abdominal pain.
Abdominal pain in children
- Abdominal pain in child: introduction
- Acute abdominal pain and chronic abdominal pain
- Causes of abdominal pain in children
- Abdominal pain due to intestinal cramps
- Abdominal pain in child due to constipation
- Stomach pain due to stomach flu
- Infection elsewhere in the body
- Abdominal pain in child due to a bladder infection
- Abdominal pain in child due to worms
- Food hypersensitivity and abdominal pain complaints
- Gastroesophageal reflux and chronic abdominal pain
- Abdominal pain in child due to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Abdominal pain in child due to chronic intestinal inflammation
- Psychosomatic causes
- Functional abdominal pain
- Appendicitis in children
Abdominal pain in child: introduction
Abdominal pain in children can have various causes. A cause is not always found. It appears that in more than half of the children with abdominal pain after physical examination, no clear abnormality is found that adequately explains the complaints. It is therefore not always easy to find out why a child has a stomach ache.
Acute abdominal pain and chronic abdominal pain
A distinction is made between acute abdominal pain and chronic abdominal pain. This distinction has to do with the duration of the complaints. Abdominal pain that lasts less than 1 week is referred to as acute abdominal pain and abdominal pain that lasts longer than 1 week is referred to as chronic abdominal pain. The complaints of children with abdominal pain can vary:
- the abdominal pain can occur acutely or develop gradually;
- the abdominal pain may be continuous or occur in attacks;
- the abdominal pain varies in severity (mild or severe) and duration (quickly over or persistent);
- there may be an attack of pain (with or without the need to move), whereby the frequency of attacks can vary;
- the location of the pain can vary (around the navel, in the lower abdomen, left or right, etc.);
- there may be pain radiating to the back or other areas;
- there may be transport pain.
Causes of abdominal pain in children
Abdominal pain in children can have many causes. The most important causes are discussed below.
Abdominal pain due to intestinal cramps
Babies can suffer a lot from so-called ‘intestinal colic’. The newborn’s intestines have to get used to the new life and therefore digestion can be accompanied by intestinal cramps. That is a completely normal phenomenon. There is often little you can do about it, except wait. In many cases the problem resolves itself after some time. Babies who are breastfed can get colic because the mother has eaten something that they cannot yet tolerate. Bottle-fed babies may be allergic to cow’s milk or an ingredient in formula. When a baby switches to solid food, his intestines often still have to get used to the new food. This may be accompanied by intestinal cramps.
Abdominal pain in child due to constipation
Constipation is one of the most common reasons for abdominal pain in children (babies can also suffer from it). Constipation means that the child suffers from hard and painful stools that he has difficulty defecating.
Stomach pain due to stomach flu
Gastroenteritis (infection of the stomach and intestines), commonly called ‘stomach flu’, can cause abdominal pain. Stomach flu often comes on within a few hours and is often accompanied by (severe) abdominal cramps, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Infection elsewhere in the body
An infection somewhere else in the body can cause abdominal pain. Children quickly have stomach aches when there is ‘something’ wrong with them. A sore throat, pneumonia, an ear infection, or a cold can sometimes be accompanied by abdominal pain.
Abdominal pain in child due to a bladder infection
A child with a bladder infection may experience pain when urinating and often has to urinate small amounts each time. It also happens that a child with a bladder infection only has an annoying, nagging stomach ache.
Adult pinworms / Source: Public domain, Wikimedia Commons (PD)
Abdominal pain in child due to worms
Stomach pain can also be caused by pinworms. These are small worms that can infect the intestines and lay eggs around the anus at night. This can cause intense itching in and around the anus and buttocks. In that case, a child may complain of ‘itching the buttocks’. The child may also complain of vague or mild abdominal pain and sometimes nausea.
Food hypersensitivity and abdominal pain complaints
Food hypersensitivity can cause abdominal pain. Food hypersensitivity can be caused by an allergy (rarely), by gluten hypersensitivity (celiac disease) or an intestinal abnormality. Every time your child ingests the food to which he or she is hypersensitive, he or she will experience the same symptoms. For example, gastrointestinal complaints, skin abnormalities and respiratory problems.
Gastroesophageal reflux and chronic abdominal pain
Gastroesophageal reflux disease involves the reflux of acidic stomach contents into the esophagus, causing complaints such as chronic disabling abdominal pain.
Abdominal pain in child due to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
In IBS, the intestinal wall is hypersensitive to stimuli. It responds to this with (abdominal) cramps and pain. These complaints may be accompanied by constipation and/or diarrhea. A changing bowel pattern is also common. One time the child suffers from hard stools and the next time from loose stools. After the child has pooped or has passed gas, the abdominal pain often disappears.
Abdominal pain in child due to chronic intestinal inflammation
Chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, only rarely occur in children. These conditions can lead to complaints such as persistent diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue and sometimes blood in the stool. In the long term it can lead to growth retardation and weight loss.
Chronic abdominal pain in children is usually psychosomatic in nature. Psychological factors such as anxiety, tension or depression play a role in this. Typical of this psychosomatic pain is that it can be present for a period of time and sometimes also disappear for a long time. It usually does not involve severe abdominal pain. The pain is often indicated around the navel.
Functional abdominal pain
This concerns abdominal pain where, after examination, the doctor or GP cannot find any damage, disease or abnormality as the cause of the abdominal pain. The child’s intestines may react sensitively to, for example, food, certain medications or stress and tension (see also ‘psychosomatic’).
Appendicitis in children
The length and location of the appendix can vary and therefore the pain symptoms of appendicitis can occur in the middle or upper right part of the abdomen. The symptoms of appendicitis often develop over a short period of time and usually cause severe pain. The pain often starts at the navel, after which it later descends to the lower right abdomen. The pain may remain quite vague for the first few hours. It’s slowly getting worse. The child loses his appetite and feels nauseous. This may be followed by vomiting. If you touch the abdomen and let go, it hurts a lot, as do coughing and laughing. In fact, every movement causes pain.
Which symptoms in children are alarm symptoms for which you should contact your doctor immediately?
- Abdominal pain in the lower abdomen: left/right, causes in men and women
- Stomach flu: symptoms, cause, treatment and prevention
- Diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever and headache
- Abdominal pain and diarrhea, no appetite, vomiting, tired, headache
- Abdominal pain on the left or right and nagging or stabbing abdominal pain