Why does my child's stomach hurt?

Stomach pains are one of the most common complaints that bring kids to the emergency room. We asked Dr. Dina Kulik what the most common culprits are.

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My child has unexplained pains in his stomach. What should I do?
Abdominal pain is a very common complaint we see in the clinic and emergency department. Though there are many causes of abdominal pain, there are two we see most often. The first is constipation. Ideally, children (and you!) should poop at least once a day, and it should be soft and easy to push out. Many kids go less frequently or have hard stool that causes abdominal cramping. If your child seems to be constipated, increase his fibre and water intake, and talk to his doctor. You may also consider giving him a gentle, non-stimulating stool softener like polyethylene glycol 3350 (such as RestoraLax).

The other common reason kids experience abdominal pain is anxiety. Many children develop abdominal pain and headaches when they are stressed, anxious or tired. If your child complains of discomfort when he is in a stressful situation or feeling anxious, but is otherwise active, pain-free and eating, drinking and sleeping well, anxiety could be the cause, and you should talk to your child’s doctor.

Of course, there are many more serious causes of abdominal pain. Please see your doctor if your child has persistent abdominal pain for more than a few days; if there is vomiting, diarrhea or blood in the stool; if your child has a fever; or if the pain is waking your child from sleep. It is worth keeping a journal, noting when your child has pain, what foods he recently ate and what his mood is like to see if there is a link. This could help you determine whether celiac or lactose intolerance could be the culprit, or whether your child’s mental health is playing a role. Severe and sudden abdominal pain should always be assessed to ensure your child doesn’t have something like appendicitis, a hernia or intussusception (where part of the bowel slides into another part of the bowel, which can block food from passing through).

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