Common Abdominal Pain Causes in Children

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When it comes to stomach aches in kids, it’s natural for parents to worry. Reassuringly, some of the more common abdominal pain causes in children aren’t worth worrying about. If you’re a concerned parent or caregiver who wants to learn more about them, here’s a quick guide:


Also known as ‘Rotavirus’ or ‘gastric flu,’ gastroenteritis is rarely concerning. In addition to abdominal pain, your child may have watery diarrhea and vomiting. They may also seem more tired than usual. But, this isn’t one of the abdominal pain causes worth worrying about.

According to the CDC, more than 400,000 doctor visits in the U.S. arose from rotavirus infections each year before 2006. In 2006, the Rotavirus vaccine had a significantly positive impact on America’s pediatric population.

If you suspect your child does have gastroenteritis, you can alleviate pain using an appropriate dose of acetaminophen. Additionally, ensure your child remains well-hydrated and look for signs of dehydration. If you have any concerns, approach a medical practitioner. Most cases of gastric flu pass without the need for medical attention.

Urinary tract infection

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) also act as common abdominal pain causes in children. They’re more likely to occur in girls, as they have short urethras that are easy for bacteria to colonize in. Additionally, the small gap between the anus and urethra means the wrong type of bacteria comes into contact with the area easily.

Although a UTI doesn’t count as an acute medical emergency, your child will need to see a doctor at some point. Aside from abdominal pain, other symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Cloudy and smelly urine
  • Needing to urinate more often
  • Pain when urinating
  • Vomiting
  • A temperature of 100.4 (38) or above
  • Pain that radiates to their back

UTIs are easy to treat in most children, with many being able to take antibiotics at home. A small number require IV antibiotics, though.

Mesenteric Adenitis

While the name may sound scary, this is one of the commonest abdominal pain causes that few parents have heard of. It usually arises shortly after your child has had signs of a cough or cold, including a runny nose or a sore throat.

Mesenteric adenitis involves some of the lymph nodes in the abdomen’s mesenteric lining becoming inflamed. They become inflamed because of a recent virus and the inflammation places pressure on nearby pain nerve endings.

The condition isn’t serious, but the symptoms can become difficult to distinguish from appendicitis. As such, it’s better to have a doctor evaluate your child and come to the conclusion of mesenteric adenitis than it is to form it yourself.

Abdominal pain causes that require immediate medical attention

Suspected appendicitis

On that note, suspected appendicitis presents with similar symptoms to mesenteric adenitis. As one of the abdominal pain causes you definitely shouldn’t ignore, it’s worth knowing what the warning signs are:

  • Pain that starts around the navel and eventually migrates to the lower right abdomen
  • Pain that becomes worse in the lower right abdomen when you palpate the lower left abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting that arises shortly after the pain starts
  • A fever between 99 and 102 degrees
  • A child drawing their knees to their abdomen while laying on their side to become comfortable

Appendicitis is notoriously difficult to exclude with everyday medical observations. Therefore, a doctor should rule it out before you do.

Recently swallowed a foreign object

Another worrying abdominal pain cause is a recently swallowed foreign object. If your child has swallowed something such as a peach stone and they have abdominal pain, you may not need to worry too much. However, items that are large, those that are sharp, and button batteries should always prompt seeking medical attention.

Suspected diabetic ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis is mercifully rare compared to the less harmful issues mentioned, but it’s an abdominal pain cause that requires emergency interventions from a pediatric team.

Also known as a DKA, diabetic ketoacidosis arises when uncontrolled diabetes arises in your child’s body producing too many ketones. As a result, their blood becomes acidic, which can lead to organ failure. Unfortunately, it’s often the first sign of Type 1 diabetes in the pediatric community, so you should look out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Your child seems overly thirsty
  • They’ve recently been losing weight, without any changes to their diet
  • They’re urinating more often than usual
  • They have abdominal pain, often with nausea and/or vomiting
  • They become very drowsy
  • They appear confused
  • Their breath smells fruity

When it comes to abdominal pain causes in kids, it’s worth knowing that few are serious. However, as children tend to swing between medical extremes faster than adults, there’s no harm in seeking professional advice sooner than you would do for yourself.



About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.