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Health Tips for Parents

2009 Issues

How can I help my child with stomach aches?


Stomach aches, a common childhood complaint, usually pass quickly with little or no treatment, but some cases are more severe and may require medical attention.

Drikining MilkCertain foods can trigger stomach aches in children, according to David Ziring, M.D., director of UCLA’s Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program. These include foods with large amounts of concentrated sweets, spicy foods and, for children with lactose intolerance, foods that contain milk.

Some children have chronic pain due to peptic ulcer disease caused by the H. pylori bacteria, or bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine. This condition can be diagnosed with a simple breath test and treated with antibiotics and dietary supplements, such as probiotics.

“Some stomach aches are caused by reasons for which we don’t have good answers. An estimated 13 percent of middle school students and 17 percent of high school students experience weekly abdominal pain. Location, severity and duration of pain are all important symptoms to monitor. Until a diagnosis is made, do not give your child any medication without consulting a doctor,” stresses Dr. Ziring.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an immune-mediated disease that causes ulceration of the GI tract. The symptoms usually last a couple of weeks or longer.

Boy SleepingChronic recurrent abdominal pain, or functional abdominal pain, is not associated with inflammation. Instead, it’s thought to arise from the brain misinterpreting the normal sensations of the GI tract, which contains a very complicated nervous system of its own. For some people, the gurgling sensation that we may feel in between meals is misinterpreted (unconsciously) by the brain as a painful sensation.

Treating Stomach Aches

“Tell your child that in the absence of any other symptoms, it may be normal to get stomach aches,” notes Dr. Ziring. “Children may find relief from resting in a quiet, dark room with a heating pad on their belly for 30 minutes, or until they feel better. Otherwise, they should maintain their normal daily routine, which means attending school. If the stomach ache lasts longer than several minutes a day, is unusually severe and associated with other symptoms, or persists for more than two weeks, your child should be seen by his or her doctor.”

Pediatric and patientConsult a physician if any of these symptoms accompany a stomach ache:

  • Poor growth
  • Poor weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Joint pains
  • Rash
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloody stools
  • Nighttime awakening

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. UCLA Health pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. All health and health-related information contained in this publication is intended to be general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional.

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