How to Tell when a Tummy Ache Means Trouble

Stomachaches go hand in hand with childhood. Studies say more than a third of children complain of abdominal pain lasting two weeks or longer.

Bellyaches in toddlers can stem from hunger pangs, the need to use the bathroom, or just being tired. Common causes in school-age kids include worries about a test or stress from too much homework. It’s hard to know for sure if the cause is stress or junk food. And it can be tough to know how to relieve the pain.

How to Spot Trouble

These clues usually show it’s safe to treat tummy trouble at home:

  • Intensity. You can usually ease mild pain with tender loving care
  • Duration of Pain. If it lasts less than five minutes, it’s not likely to be serious even if it comes back for days.
  • Loss of function. “Worry less about bellyaches- even if they linger or recur – that don’t sideline your child from usual activities,” says Avi Gurwitz, M.D., Medical Director of the Holy Redeemer Pediatric UrgiCare Center, located at Holy Redeemer Hospital. “Can your child still eat, go to school, play with friends, and sleep through the night?”

Make the Call

It’s time to call the doctor if your child has any of the following along with stomach pain:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Bloody stools
  • Waking at night with pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Paint with urination
  • Sudden or severe pain

If your child has these symptoms, the doctor will probably want you to bring him or her in for an exam. For serious symptoms (your child can’t stand up, for instance), the doctor may suggest calling 911.

Tracking Symptoms

Using a diary, parents and children can keep track of diet, current medications, pain, bowel movements, and any steps they’ve taken to help, as well as daily experiences that may be causing the pain. “This lets the child play an active role in figuring out what’s wrong,” says Dr. Gurwitz. “It can also help the doctor find out what triggers the pain.”

Easing the Pain

Techniques that help keep your child’s mind off the pain, such as guided imagery, may help him or her cope with the symptoms until they ease off. “Parents of kids with chronic bellyaches have also found techniques such as relaxed breathing or relaxing every muscle in the body can help easy symptoms, ” says Dr. Gurwitz.

If you think your child’s bellyache needs attention ASAP, visit the Holy Redeemer Pediatric UrgiCare Center. It’s open Monday through Friday 4 p.m. to midnight, and on weekends and holidays from noon to midnight. For more information visit or call 214-938-2167.

Holy Redeemer

Holy Redeemer

For nearly 80 years, the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer have served the community through their mission to care, comfort, and heal. The visionary Sisters created a health system committed to helping people achieve optimal health no matter where they are in life. This includes delivering exceptional medical care not only within the hospital, but also through our outpatient, home care, and long-term care facilities and services. As a result, our health system is well-positioned to serve the community now and in the future.
Holy Redeemer

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