5 signs your child’s tummyache needs medical attention

It can be hard to tell if your kid is just feeling under the weather or if it's more dire.

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  • When your son comes running tells you his tummy hurts, it can be easy to brush it off as unimportant. Most of the time, he's back running circles around the yard in five minutes anyways. But what if that ache in the pit of his stomach the beginnings of the flu or something more sinister? It could be something he ate last night or the beginning signs of appendicitis? With all the aches and pains your children feel, it can be hard to discern which are benign and which deserve investigation.

  • The abdominal region comprises nine organs, and a disorder of one of them often affects one or several others. Healthline.com lists 175 common causes of abdominal pain, ranging in severity from stress and constipation to organ rupture and Crohn's disease. It's a staggering number of causes, but you can quickly narrow down the possibilities with a little knowledge of medical terminology.

  • Teach your children to describe their pain

  • Teach your children how to describe where the pain is coming from and what it feels like. The Mayo Clinic lists a variety of words that might characterize your pain: acute, sudden, dull, intense, intermittent, worsening, sharp, burning, crampy or ongoing. Explaining clearly is important when you talk to a doctor because it's difficult to diagnose when they don't know how your child is feeling.

  • To describe where the pain is located, ask your child, could you draw a circle around a certain part of your body, or is it widespread? Does it seem to change locations? Are there certain motions you make that worsen the pain? Does it disappear entirely at times? All these factors will help you or a health professional determine the diagnosis.

  • For less severe pain, you can do a little at-home treatment and wait to see if their comfort level improves. If it does, you're probably on the right track and a doctor's visit (with its attendant co-pay) might be unnecessary. Other times, only a doctor's consultation can answer your questions.

  • Is it digestion related?

  • If your child's abdominal pains are related to digestion, she might feel overly full after eating a normal-sized meal, have a burning sensation at the back of her throat (heartburn), or experience abnormal gas or burping.

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  • Indigestion can be combatted by eating small meals throughout the day (hold the spice), losing excess weight, eating slowly, reducing stress and avoiding medications that irritate the stomach lining. Frequent, severe heartburn can be a sign of more serious problems.

  • Is it the flu?

  • If your child is feverish, nauseous, tired and weak, you may suspect the flu. If you know anyone else around your child who has had the flu and they haven't had a flu vaccine, the likelihood is even higher.

  • Unfortunately, there's little a doctor can do for your child. Give her plenty of fluids, make sure she gets rest, and give her small and easily digestible foods to eat, and keep her hands clean to avoid passing germs to someone else. If her symptoms persist for longer than a few days or she can't keep water down, contact a doctor to find out what else might be wrong.

  • Is it constipation?

  • Has your son been eating enough fruit? If not, lower abdominal pains could be constipation related. On the other hand, diarrhea could be a cause for pain as well, although it is caused by other problems, such as an infection or irritation.

  • Whether it's constipation or diarrhea, your child should eat plenty of fiber-rich foods, relax in a warm bath, or you can try a stool softener (for constipation). Let your child's doctor know right away if you see blood in their stool, if they look thinner than normal, or if the trouble lasts more than a couple weeks.

  • Contact a 24/7 doctor with questions or concerns

  • If your child still still complains about her tummy even after you've tried home remedies, or she has been driven to tears, contact a doctor right away. As part of the MyHealth Pass program, MyHealth MD allows you to contact a doctor 24/7 to discuss health concerns. The doctor can provide you with a prescription for your child if necessary.

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Katie Nielsen received her bachelor's in English with an emphasis in technical writing. She has taught English and is a published writer.

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