According to the University of Michigan Health System, recurrent abdominal pain affects up to 15 percent of kids between the ages of 4 and 12 years. Recurrent abdominal pain in children often has no known medical cause, but that does not mean your child's symptoms are not real. While these stomach aches rarely present any long-term threat to your child, contact your doctor if more serious symptoms emerge.
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Stress could be behind your child's recurrent abdominal pain, especially if your child's stomach aches occur during the morning before school and disappear later in the day. Dr. Alan M. Lake with the American Academy of Family Physicians also explains that certain peptic disorders, including gastroesophageal reflux and stomach ulcers, could cause frequent early morning stomach pain. Abdominal migraines, which the National Headache Foundation defines as "periodic bouts of moderate to severe midline abdominal pain lasting for 1-72 hours," also typically appear during the late night or early morning hours. Other medical causes of recurrent abdominal pain are not often linked to the morning.
Contacting a Doctor
If your child's stomach aches remain dull and disappear without treatment, a doctor visit may not be necessary. If, however, she starts complaining of sharp stomach pain or pain on the right side of the stomach, seek immediate medical care. Additionally, if she displays any alarm signs, schedule an appointment immediately. Alarm signs listed by the University of Michigan Health System include dramatic weight loss, slowed growth, vomiting, severe diarrhea, gastrointestinal blood loss and fever. When in doubt, call the doctor.
Testing and Diagnosis
In most instances, your child's physician will make a diagnosis after hearing the symptoms and performing a standard physical examination. According to Dr. Seem Khan with the American College of Gastroenterology, though, the doctor may also wish to perform blood and stool tests to screen your child for serious illnesses. If these screening tests are abnormal, he may order additional tests including an ultrasound of the abdomen, a CT of the abdomen and an endoscopy -- a scope that uses a camera to explore the digestive tract. The doctor may also perform a biopsy on small pinches of the digestive lining.
If you suspect stress to be behind your child's morning stomach aches, talk with her about any difficulties or worries she has concerning school or other elements of her daily routine. Create a supportive environment to calm her worries. Migraine medications and anti-nausea medications often work against abdominal migraines, and dietary changes often help ease the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux and other peptic disorders. If none of these treatments help, consider contacting your doctor to check for signs of more serious illness. Your doctor will prescribe the proper medication or treatment plan if your child's stomach pains have a more sinister cause.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- University of Michigan Health System; Abdominal Pain; Kyla Boyse, R.N.; November 2009
- "American Family Physician"; Chronic Abdominal Pain in Childhood; Alan M. Lake, M.D.; April 1999
- The American College of Gastroenterology; Functional Abdominal Pain in Children; Seema Khan, M.D.
- Virtual Pediatric Hospital; Chronic Abdominal Pain; Donna D'Alessandro, M.D. et al.; December 2001
- Women's and Children's Heatlh Network - Child and Youth Health: Abdominal Pain
- PubMed Health; Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease; December 2010
- National Headache Foundation: Abdominal Migraine
- MedlinePlus: Stomach Disorders