Abdominal Pain or Bellyaches in Children
Every child complains about a bellyache (belly pain or abdominal pain) now and then. How can a parent tell what is wrong, and if it is dangerous? It is not always easy.
► Children less than 5 or 6 years of age often do not have the words to describe their sensations accurately.
► Toddlers do not separate emotional from physical distress. The young child's bellyache may represent hunger, fatigue, or a need to use the bathroom.
► School age children may wake with belly pain on school days. Are they sick, or just anxious about an important test?
► What about when the bellyache comes at a birthday party? Some abdominal pain comes from too much excitement or worry.
How can parents learn when to be concerned?
Some clues to help to decide if the belly pain is a medical problem include:
- Intensity: mild, moderate, or severe,
- Duration: if the pain lasts less than 5 minutes, it is unlikely to be anything to worry about, even if it comes and goes for many days,
- Chronicity: chronic or recurrent bellyaches are common; most chronic abdominal pain is functional meaning that the pain is real, but is not due to any disease (the pain is due to an altered way in which the body is working, not due to a disease characterized by tissue damage, inflammation, or a structural abnormality),
- Position: the closer the pain is to the bellybutton, the more likely it is functional,
- The Rule of Ones: if a person has only one symptom, that symptom is probably functional,
- Loss of function: if chronic or recurrent bellyaches prevent a child from doing their usual activities like eating, going to school, playing with friends, or sleeping through the night, then it is time to see your doctor.
Talk to the doctor
Children and Fiber
Children benefit from a balance of fiber in their diet. Their requirements are less than for adults. For children, ages 3 to 18, the American Dietetic Association reports a formula for determining recommended fiber intake--a child's age plus five equals the grams of dietary fiber he or she should eat daily. To avoid or minimize discomfort, add fiber gradually and slowly over time. Good sources are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It is important to drink extra liquids, such as water or milk, when increasing dietary fiber. Find out more here.
If your child seems to have the symptoms that qualify as a functional gastrointestinal disorder, it is a good idea to learn more about these disorders. Visit your child's doctor. Communication is a key to effective management of functional gastrointestinal disorders.
No one knows your child as well as you do, but the physician knows about illness. Effective communication helps ensure that your child's problems are understood and treated properly.
Common questions to ask about bellyaches:
- How can I tell if my child is faking a bellyache?
- How is a functional gastrointestinal disorder different from a disease?
- If symptoms persist, does my child need more tests?
- How can you be sure there is no disease?
- How do you treat the pain in functional disorders?
- Is dietary fiber important?
- Is diet and important factor?
- If my child has symptoms, but the tests are negative, does it mean it is all in my child's head?
Be sure to see your doctor if your child exhibits any of the following warning signs:
For the complete discussion of this topic go to:
Hyman P. Bellyaches in Children. IFFGD Fact Sheet No. 809; 2009.