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Mom, My Stomach Hurts
Photo: Van Der Westhuizen
I recall having numerous stomach aches as a child. Sometimes it was just a little discomfort; sometimes I stayed in bed. Mom usually gave me a hot water bottle and that helped.

Recurrent abdominal pain in children is one of the most common physical complaints heard by parents and pediatricians. “Kids are just more susceptible to stomach issues,” says Dr. Randy Neustaedter, author of Child Health Guide: Holistic Pediatrics for Parents. “Their digestive tracts are more sensitive, their immune systems aren’t fully developed, they tend to eat a lot of foods that are irritating, and they don’t yet know how to cope with stress, all of which can cause stomach upset.”

So how do you as a parent determine the cause of your child’s pain? Is it the flu or too much pizza? Constipation or tomorrow’s math test?

Five Possible Causes

Lisa Turner, widely-published food writer and eating coach, says paying close attention to your child’s symptoms and asking specific questions can help you figure things out. Turner offers five possible causes of stomach pain and ways to identify each type. For more information see her article "Tummy Troubles" at www.deliciousliving.com.

1. Viral gastroenteritis (commonly called stomach flu): Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, vomiting and cramps. This condition is usually self-limiting and lasts only a few days.

2. Food allergies or intolerance: If symptoms appear 2-4 hours after eating, or if your child has gas, chronic congestion and sinus problems, suspect a food allergy. Sensitivities are trickier; they elicit more nonspecific symptoms and can manifest many hours after eating the offending food.

3. Constipation: If your child has hard stools, infrequent bowel movements or strains on the toilet, constipation may be the culprit. Eating high-fiber foods and drinking adequate water will help this situation.

4. Appendicitis: This is an infrequent but serious condition. Because it can mimic gastroenteritis you’ll need to do some sleuthing. Ask your child to point to where it hurts. Appendicitis usually starts in the belly button area and moves down to the lower right side of the abdomen. Even light pressure on the area will cause pain. Kids with appendicitis often lose their appetites a day or two before acute pain occurs. If you suspect appendicitis, get immediate medical attention.

5. Anxiety and stress: The mind and body are intertwined and being worried can have a major effect on digestive functions, especially in kids. Stomach upset before a performance or exam is obvious; chronic, low-grade worries (social problems, excessive homework, etc.) are harder to identify. Look at your child’s daily schedule and ask questions about how things are going. Cutting back on activities may help.

If your child’s pain is severe and persistent, a thorough medical examination is in order. However, only about five percent of children are found to have a physical explanation for their symptoms. Most children with recurrent abdominal pain eventually pain outgrow their complaints. Until that happens, parental support and understanding are the best medications.

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By Brenda Dickerson Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Sources: tummytrouble.co.uk/, deliciousliving.com, kidsgrowth.com

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