Stomach Pain

Q: My son constantly complains of a tummyache. When should I be concerned that this is something more than the occasional upset stomach?

A: A stomachache is a very common problem for many children. In fact, about one in three children is seen by a doctor for abdominal pain by the time they are 15. Here are a few possible causes:


This is the most common reason why children see a pediatric gastroenterologist. Many children have constipation at one time or another, typically caused by changes in diet or activity, withholding behaviors or refusal to use a bathroom outside their house. Constipation can start with one hard bowel movement that hurts, which worsens the withholding behaviors.

Functional Abdominal Pain

Most abdominal pain for children is caused by small changes to diet, stress levels or activity, or after an infection. Children may complain of pain, nausea, bloating or feeling full after eating a small meal, which is commonly associated with stress. They may point out these symptoms more in the morning or before bedtime, or during the school week versus on the weekend, and they may worsen with school and social stress. A very common well-known functional abdominal pain disorder is irritable bowel syndrome.

More Troubling Problems

Most serious cases of abdominal pain are accompanied by other symptoms such as weight loss, vomiting, bloody diarrhea and fever. If your child experiences these symptoms, contact your pediatrician. Lab and imaging tests can help find the root of the problem, and your pediatrician can refer you to a gastroenterologist for further treatment.

Always consult your child's pediatrician concerning your child's health.

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Ross Maltz, M.D., is a gastroenterology physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital.