Sudden/Acute Abdominal Pain

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child with belly acheThis section is not about chronic abdominal pain. If your child has had abdominal pain for weeks or months, contact your doctor during normal business hours.

Most causes of abdominal pain are not an emergency.

Why do children get abdominal pain?

When your child has gas pains s/he will often have sudden onset of sharp pain in one area with no fever, vomiting or diarrhea. Local pressure, positional changes and using the bathroom often help alleviate the discomfort. The pain comes and goes.

Many infants will experience periods of increased crying and fussiness in the late afternoon and evening hours. They act as if they are having abdominal cramping and pain during these episodes.

If your child has a history of withholding stool and passing hard stool then you are probably dealing with constipation. The first couple of times that this happens it falls under acute, and not chronic, abdominal pain. Your child will have the pain of gas (see above) with a possible fullness in his/her belly, and will often be straining to pass stool. Putting Vaseline on the anus to lubricate it and prevent more pain during the passage of stool is helpful. If this is a chronic issue you should contact your child’s Pediatrician during regular business hours.

Viral Gastroenteritis
Abdominal cramping accompanied by fever, vomiting and/or diarrhea. (See vomiting for more information)

Food Poisoning
Abdominal cramping with vomiting and/or diarrhea. Usually within 8 hours of the offending meal. Often many members of a group or household begin having symptoms at the same time. See vomiting for more information.

Acid Reflux/Heartburn

Keeping a log of when the pain occurs can help you figure out which foods trigger this in your child so that you can move towards prevention

Characterized by pain in the upper middle abdomen, usually within 2 hours of a meal. Foods more likely to cause this are spicy, greasy and acidic foods (citrus and tomato), and foods/drinks containing caffeine. If your child has food allergies or is lactose intolerant, eating something from this list of items might cause stomach upset and reflux. Antacid tablets give temporary relief. Keeping a log of when the pain occurs can help you figure out which foods trigger this in your child so that you can move towards prevention. There are oral medications that can be used at any age for more severe reflux, so you should call your child’s Pediatrician during normal business hours to schedule a visit.

Menstrual cramps
Typically lower abdominal cramping with no fever, vomiting or diarrhea. Often accompanied by lower back pain. Cyclical (monthly) pattern. Pain can begin days before menstruation and might last for a week. Ibuprofen is helpful (see medication dosing page).

Muscle Pain
Often after an increase in exercise and physical activities the muscles become sore and tender. Any tensing of the stomach muscles will cause this pain. Ibuprofen can be helpful (see medication dosing page).

Strep Throat
If your child has nausea/stomach pain, throat pain, and fever then strep throat is a possibility. Call your doctor during normal business hours to arrange for a throat culture.

Urinary Tract Infection
If your child has increased frequency of urination, fever, abdominal pain, is wetting him/herself (after being potty trained for more than 6 months) then you should call your doctor during regular business hours for a urine test.

When should you worry and call or see a doctor immediately?

If you feel that something is just not right call your physician or head into an urgent care/emergency room. Remember, no one knows your child like you do!

-Monique Araya, MD, FAAP

The medical information on this Web site is provided for educational purposes only. The information provided in this site, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider.
If you believe you have a medical emergency you should call 911 or your physician immediately. If you have any questions regarding your health or a medical condition, you should promptly consult your physician.