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Butterflies and Belly Aches

It’s a common childhood complaint: stomach ache. As a parent, it can be frustrating to know whether it’s just part of growing up, or if it’s a more serious disease or issue with abdominal organs. So when should you call the doctor about your child’s stomach ache? Here’s what you need to know about possible causes of abdominal pain, how to help your child deal with the pain, and signs to watch for that could indicate a more serious problem.

Defining Functional Abdominal Pain

Functional abdominal pain occurs when there is pain at or around the belly button, but no other symptoms and no underlying disease. It is true pain and often can be quite severe. Your child’s doctor may diagnose it during a thorough evaluation in the office. Your doctor might also suggest additional tests to confirm a diagnosis.

No one knows exactly what causes functional abdominal pain, but most  experts believe it is caused by overly sensitive nerves and how the signals are read by the brain. These can cause your child to perceive pain from normal body functions, such as intestinal contractions that help move food along or gas bubbles. Your child might also be sensitive to mild irritants, such as certain foods or spices. Sometimes stress, anxiety or depression may cause or increase pain signals to the brain.

Helping Your Child With Functional Abdominal Pain

If your child is suffering from functional abdominal pain, there are steps you can take to help:

  • Talk to your child about why he or she is having pain, and reassure them that this pain is not the result of a serious medical problem.
  • Ensure your child’s diet includes adequate amounts of fiber and avoid spices or other foods that can be irritants.
  • Address any stressors at home or at school that might be contributing to your child’s pain. Helping your child practice relaxation techniques also could help ease the pain.
  • Sometimes, medications such as acid-blockers or “anti-spasmodics” which help decrease the abnormal contractions in the intestines. may help. Usually no medication is needed.

Serious Stomach Problems 

It’s important to watch for warning signs that your child’s stomach pain could be the symptom of something more serious.

Signs you should watch for include:

  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Waking up at night because of pain  or to have a bowel movement
  • Multiple episodes of diarrhea per day
  • Blood in the stool
  • Recurrent fevers (higher than 100°)

These symptoms are sometimes, but not always, associated with more serious stomach and intestinal problems. Share these symptoms with your child’s doctor, who may suggest additional testing. If you don't have a doctor, we can help you find one.

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