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Overview of Abdominal Pain in Children


Abdominal pain would be the main symptom to which parents world over would seek medical advice from doctors. It is a common complaint from young children and could originate from many different sites of the abdomen or else from elsewhere in the body. Some of these abdominal pains could be life threatening or else should be considered as emergency situations given the nature of damage it can cause. Thus, as parents, it is vital to know what the emergency or life threatening states are and to seek medical attention as soon as possible.


As mentioned before, many causes can contribute to the occurrence of abdominal pain and distinguishing one from the other would be a difficult task as well as intriguing.

Following are some of the causes that can lead to an abdominal pain.

*Gastroenteritis or tummy flu: In this condition, the child can have and associated fever as well as diarrheas. Many of the gastroenteritis occur as a result of viral infections and the rest would be due to bacterial infections. Although the viral infection settles earlier than the bacterial infections, the latter, can be accelerated in its healing process by introducing antibiotics.

*Gastritis or gastric ulcers: Even though the condition is not as common as gastroenteritis, the gastric irritation can also be present even at the time of infancy. The condition would be present at times following a meal and at times of lying down.

*Distended abdomen: Distention of the abdomen can take place due to air, fluids or else due to the presence of an enlarged abdominal organ. Therefore, such distension should be investigated further and an imaging study would be able to demonstrate the nature of the disease.

*Appendicitis: Being a sudden onset severe pain, the appendicitis is the inflammation that takes place giving rise to infections, rapture or else blockage of the appendix. This condition will most likely require the appendix to be removed along with the products that are present in the abdominal cavity as a result of complications related to appendicitis.

*Torsion of the testes or ovaries: Being considered as an emergency situation, unless an intervention is done, the two organs can be permanently damaged and could lead to sub-fertility in later life.

*Food poisoning or allergies: Another common condition giving rise to abdominal pain would be food poisoning or food allergy. Although there is very little that we can do, remembering of such incidence could prevent future attacks following ingestion of the same food.

*Referred pain: When a child suffers from pneumonia, there is a possibility of developing an abdominal pain as a referred pain and such respiratory infection should be excluded in certain instances.

Apart from the above mentioned conditions, there are many other reasons for a child to complain of an abdominal pain and at times, it might not have a structural or physical reason except a psychological one.


Diagnosing the cause of an abdominal pain should be done using a combination of clinical, laboratory and imaging studies and at times, it would be necessary to make a diagnosis only at the time of the intervention such as in cases of ‘explorative laparotomy’. Urine full report, full blood count, C-reactive proteins, ESR, Stools full report, urine and stools culture are some of the laboratory investigations which are useful in the diagnosing the cause.


In most instances, the treatment would be supportive with adequate and appropriate amounts of foods and liquids as well as other treatment for associated symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea…etc. In case of suspected bacterial infections, an antibiotic can be started and if the cause needs surgical intervention, an appropriate procedure should be performed. In case of testicular and ovarian torsion, the surgical intervention needs to be within few hours after onset of the symptoms.