Children and Young People’s Emergency Department
Abdominal pain (tummy ache) is one of the most common causes for parents to
seek medical advice for their children; most children will experience abdominal pain at
some time during their childhood.
Simple abdominal pain in children is usually located in the centre of the tummy, or covers a large part of the abdomen. It usually resolves quickly without treatment and has a variety of causes.
Most abdominal pain can often be effectively treated at home, with support from your GP or health visitor as appropriate. However some more serious cases may require hospital admission, for further investigations and, or treatment.
What can cause abdominal pain in children?
Abdominal pain in children can have a variety of causes the main ones are:
Infection can be caused by either bacteria or viruses, viral infections get better on their own without medication although your child may have diarrhoea and vomiting for a few days. Bacterial infections may need to be treated with antibiotics your health care provider will be able to advise if these are necessary.
Food poisoning, food allergies, excessive eating, and gas production can all cause abdominal pain. Food related issue are often associated with bloating and temporary discomfort. The onset of pain is usually rapid and follows eating.
Poisoning can range from a simple problem such as your child eating something they should not have for example soap, to overdoses of medication either accidental or intentional.
Surgical problems such as appendicitis, blockage of the bowel and intussusception, testicular torsion, ovarian torsion can all cause abdominal pain and require rapid medical or surgical assessment.
Medical problems such as constipation, heartburn, reflux and mesenteric adenitis (swollen abdominal lymph nodes and usually follows a viral illness)
What can I do to help my child?
- Encourage your child to rest
- Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids to reduce the risk of dehydration (if your child is breastfeeding continue to offer your child breast feeds). Do not insist that your child eats if they do not feel hungry
- Encourage your child to sit on the toilet and to see if passing urine or a stool (poo) helps to ease the pain
- Give analgesia (pain relieving medication) such as Paracetamol. Always follow the instructions on the packaging carefully and never give more than the recommended dose. Avoid the use of ibuprofen unless advised by a medical practitioner as this can irritate the stomach lining
- Give antibiotics or other medication prescribed by a health care professional always follow the instructions carefully and complete the prescribed course
- Give re-hydration fluids such as dioralyte if recommended by a health care professional.
Do not give your child drinks or foods that are irritating to the stomach, avoid:
Fried or greasy foods
High fat foods
When should I seek medical advice or assistance?
Seek medical advice or assistance if:
- Your child has had a temperature and diarrhoea for more than 24 hours
- Your child has vomited for more than 24 hours
- The pain is worsening, becoming more severe or has moved position
- Your child has a fever
- Your child becomes pale, sweaty, sleepy or you are unable to distract your child from their pain with play
- Your child is refusing to drink
- Your child has blood in their vomit or stool (poo)
- Your child is having difficulty passing urine or is having fewer wet nappies than normal
- Your child develops a rash
South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust would like your feedback. If you wish to share your experience about your care and treatment or on behalf of a patient, please contact The Patient Experience Department who will advise you on how best to do this.
This service is based at The James Cook University Hospital but also covers the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, our community hospitals and community health services.