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Abdominal Pain in Children

Abdominal pain is a frequent problem in children, and is a common reason for a child seeing a doctor or even being hospitalized. However, there is surprisingly little known about how frequently it occurs and what happens to children who are seen for this problem. To learn more, researchers from Indianapolis, Indiana studied the records of over 1,100 children who came to an inner-city hospital clinic or emergency department because of abdominal pain that had been present for no more than three days.

Overall, children with abdominal pain accounted for about five percent of all the nonscheduled clinic and emergency department visits. The most common problems that accompanied the pain were fever, vomiting, decreased appetite, cough, headache, and sore throat. The most common diagnoses given to these children were infections of the ear, throat, intestinal tract, upper respiratory tract ("colds"), or a nonspecific illness.

In this large group of children, less than two percent were admitted to the hospital because of abdominal pain and about one percent required surgery for their problem (the vast majority of these children had acute appendicitis). (Scholer SJ et al: Pediatrics, October, 1996, pp. 680-685)

Comment by Child Health Alert: It's not uncommon for children to have abdominal pain, but this study reveals that such pain very often accompanies mild infections and other conditions that aren't necessarily directly related to the stomach or intestines. Though a child's complaints may focus mostly on his or her "tummy ache," there's a good chance the cause is an infection reflected by a cough, sore throat, or headache.

This study also offers some reassurance to parents who are worried when their child has a stomach ache. After all, even among children who were sick enough to be brought into a clinic or emergency department without an appointment, less than two percent were admitted to the hospital and only about one percent needed surgery, primarily for appendicitis. Though this experience may not apply to other situations and parents should not ignore a child's illness, it is comforting to know that in the vast majority of cases, abdominal pain in children is not likely to signify something serious.

This article is provided by Child Health Alert.

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