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"Tummy ache" is a symptom that understandably causes parents much concern and anxiety, principally because of the possibility of it being due to appendicitis or some other serious condition. However, abdominal pain in childhood is common and has many causes. It can be produced by infections elsewhere in the body, such as tonsillitis, as a result of inflammation of the abdominal lymph glands. It may be caused by increased bowel activity, such as in association with diarrhoea, when it will be of a colicky, off-and-on nature. Constipation only very rarely causes abdominal pain but abdominal pain is frequently produced by attempts to correct constipation through the over-enthusiastic use of laxatives. Emotional upset and stress can frequently cause abdominal discomfort; it is important to realize that the child is not "putting it on". In such cases, the child usually appears otherwise comparatively well. It is often difficult for a child to describe where and what the tummy ache is.

Not infrequently it is a term a child uses to mean something different from that understood by adults and, when he says "my tummy hurts", the child might indeed be meaning that he feels nauseated or just unwell.

Management of abdominal pain

Any complaint of abdominal pain should be taken seriously especially if this is not a normal occurrence of if there is no obvious explanation. The child will usually want to lie down and this should be encouraged. Some relief may be achieved by applying local heat, by means of a hot water bottle on the stomach. No solid food should be given, just clear fluids. Aspirin or Disprin should be given for relief of pain.

  • If the child seems ill.
  • If the pain is constant or severe.
  • If there is no other obvious cause, i.e. acute tonsillitis, gastro-enteritis or evidence of emotional stress.
  • If the pain persists for more than 6 hours.
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