Abdominal pain is one of the most common complaints in children and is a leading cause for visits to the pediatrician and pediatric gastroenterologist.
Abdominal pain can be perceived when there is a problem with any number of different systems – including the nerves, intestines, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, reproductive organs, liver, spleen, and muscles. Some children even experience “nerve hypersensitivity” – where the normal everyday functioning of the gastrointestinal tract is perceived as pain.
When narrowing down the cause of your child’s abdominal pain, it can be helpful to try to subdivide it into location and timing.
Younger children often have a difficult time characterizing the nature of their pain or discomfort. For this reason, it can be helpful to try to keep track of your child’s pain in the days and weeks leading up to your doctor’s appointment. Is there a time of day that is worse than others? Is the pain exacerbated by certain movements or foods? What makes it better? Is the pain localized to a specific area or is it a general discomfort? Any associated symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting?
Sometimes, abdominal pain is an emergency.
Conditions such as appendicitis, testicular/ovarian torsion, or intestinal malrotation require prompt evaluation by your pediatrician and/or emergency room physician for bloodwork, imaging, and sometimes surgical evaluation.
Pediatric gastroenterologists typically see abdominal pain that is more chronic in nature. Conditions such as constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, functional abdominal pain, food intolerances, etc. can often be diagnosed with a careful history and physical examination but sometimes need additional data from lab work, radiologic images, and procedures such as upper endoscopy and/or colonoscopy.
If your child is seeing a pediatric gastroenterologist, rest assured that we will either rule out or evaluate for what could be causing their symptoms so that we can get them on the right treatment plan to minimize discomfort as quickly as possible.
See moviegi.com from the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin for a video that you or your child can watch to better understand what your first appointment with a pediatric gastroenterologist will be like.