Mother holding sick child

Causes and treatments for tummy aches

When your child isn't feeling well, your first instinct may be to call the doctor. However, mild abdominal pain and other tummy troubles typically can be treated at home with over-the-counter medications, home care remedies and rest.

Tummy ache causes

Stomachaches can be caused by a number of things, including acid reflux, constipation, food allergies or intolerance, food poisoning, gas, constipation, indigestion and stomach flu. Although they are quite rare, more serious causes can include appendicitis, bowel obstruction, Crohn's disease and tumors. Abdominal pain is notoriously difficult to pinpoint for a specific problem, but the following types of stomach discomfort can provide a clue to what you're dealing with:

  • Generalized pain: If your child has pain all over, it's likely that he's dealing with gas, indigestion or a stomach virus.
  • Localized pain: Keep an eye on localized pain that is specific to one area in the tummy — this could signal appendicitis or a problem with a particular organ.
  • Cramping: Painful cramping can be caused by gas and is often followed by diarrhea. Adolescent girls may experience cramping from PMS.
  • Tummy aches: Once again, general malaise in the tummy area is usually a sign of intestinal gas. Some kids are gassier than others, but sometimes the pain is associated with eating too much fiber or eating too quickly.
  • Sharp and stabbing pain: Watch your child if he says he experiences a sharp or stabbing pain. This could be a sign of an organ problem or it could be uncomfortable constipation.

Tummy ache treatments

If your child is experiencing tummy troubles, he should lie down quietly and sip water. Ask your child to try to have a bowel movement. For the first two or three hours, avoid solid foods and then begin feeding your child a mild diet that includes applesauce, crackers or plain rice.

Award-winning holistic nutritionist Jill Troderman suggested the following home remedies (and home prevention!) for tummy aches and pain:

  • Probiotics: "Fermented foods and probiotics are actually critical to have in life," Troderman said. "These foods aid digestion by feeding beneficial gut bacteria, which can prevent tummy troubles in the first place." She recommends probiotics and fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, miso soup and the supplement Culturelle.
  • Tummy-taming teas: Natural blends of tea can have a wonderful calming effect on an upset or nauseated stomach. Troderman recommended teas that contain ginger, mint, marshmallow, lemon balm and licorice for a queasy tummy.
  • Epsom salt baths: Sometimes the anxiety from a stomachache can make the pain worse. "Epsom salt baths provide a relaxing environment where kids can just chill out and let the good minerals from the bath water absorb into their systems." She said that Epsom salt is great for calming an upset tummy.

When to call the doctor

Most of the time, tummy troubles will go away without a doctor's visit. However, there are some symptoms that could be a sign of something more serious. If your child experiences any of the following, give your doctor a call.

  • Pain does not subside within 24 hours.
  • Pain becomes more severe, sudden or sharp, or localizes to a particular area of the abdomen.
  • Pushing on the stomach increases the pain.
  • The stomach looks swollen or feels hard and rigid.
  • The child has had a recent accident or injury to the abdominal region.
  • The child is experiencing trouble breathing.
  • Blood is present in the child's vomit or stool.
  • You are concerned that your child's diarrhea is causing dehydration.
  • Vomiting symptoms intensify rather than subside over a 24-hour period.

Almost all kids experience abdominal pain and other tummy troubles at one time or another when they are growing up. Fortunately, it's typically not a sign of anything serious and can be easily treated at home.

Quick tip

Sometimes changing positions can help alleviate abdominal pain. Encourage your child to lie on his side and prop his feet up with a pillow to see if that helps until symptoms subside.

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