When to Take Your Child to Your Pediatrician for Stomach Issues

Girl holding her stomach

As parents, we’re all too familiar with the dreaded words, “Mommy, I have a tummy ache!” Most of the time, it’s just a passing discomfort, but sometimes it can be a sign of a more serious issue.

Joelle McConlogue, MD, a pediatrician at Bayside Medical Group – Pleasanton and mother of four, explains what to look for and when to be concerned about your child’s tummy problems. Dr. McConlogue also discusses this topic in a HealthTalks podcast.

Joelle McConlogue, MD, Healthtalks

Common stomach complaints

Stomach problems are a common complaint in childhood. According to Dr. McConlogue, they are one of the most frequent reasons why parents come into her office.

“There are so many stomach issues, and what can cause it is so wide and varied. I think that’s why parents get worried about it because there’s just so much that, you wonder, what could this be?” she said. “When I think about tummy problems, I think about where is the pain coming from?”

Dr. McConlogue shared some of the main culprits she encounters in children and adolescents:

  • Intestinal: constipation, reflux, gas, or indigestion
  • Infection
  • Stomach virus or food poisoning
  • Food intolerance or allergy
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Menstrual cycle

A good rule of thumb is if your kid is otherwise acting normally, or the episode passes quickly, it can probably be managed at home. “If it kind of comes and goes, their tummy hurts sometimes, but then they are feeling better and go out to play or they can go to school, it usually is not as concerning,” she said.

When to see the pediatrician for stomach pain

However, Dr. McConlogue warned that some of the more serious conditions require a trip to the doctor or even the emergency room.

“There are also some more serious things, like appendicitis or bowel obstruction, and those are the things that we really worry about and can be more serious,” she explained. “I think pain that is unremitting or that it is worsening over time is cause for concern.

“Also, if there’s a fever, I think parents need to pay attention. And if there is vomiting or diarrhea that is moderate in severity and the patients are not able to take fluids or stay hydrated, then that’s something that also needs to be really taken seriously. You definitely should reach out and call your pediatrician for that.”

In addition to acute conditions that need emergency attention, there are also long-term stomach issues that should be shared with your child’s pediatrician.

“If I see weight loss or chronic diarrhea where they are constantly losing weight or having diarrhea, that would be worrisome,” she said. “Kids should be growing, and they should be gaining weight. So, if we’re seeing that they’re not gaining weight, and there’s not a good explanation for it; they’re eating and their diet seems appropriate, but they’re losing weight and having abdominal pain—that would be something that I would be concerned about.”

How to help kids with tummy troubles

If your child is having a run-of-the-mill stomachache, Dr. McConlogue suggests a few things to help ease discomfort.

“I usually say to encourage your child to go and use the bathroom—sometimes just relieving gas or having a bowel movement will help to reset. Give their gut a rest with clear fluids, or if they’re hungry, they can do bland foods for a little bit,” she shared. “Sometimes a warm water bottle or a little heating pad on the stomach can help a little bit. Just let them rest or lie down for half an hour on the couch and see if that helps as well.”

When it all comes down to it, you know your child best. If you are concerned, then it’s a good idea to check in with your pediatrician.

“Parents will say, you know, this is different. This is different than what they normally do, and this is not typical. So, if parents feel like it’s outside of the norm for their child, then I think they should be seen.”

For more advice from Dr. McConlogue, check out:


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