Stomach Pain: When Should I Take My Child To The ER?

Stomach pain is among the top reasons for ER visits for both adults and children. More correctly termed abdominal pain, it has a long list of potential causes — from benign (too much candy or fried food) to life-threatening (appendicitis).

It’s often hard to know when to “tough it out” and when to seek treatment. For children, especially infants and babies too young to tell you what’s wrong, here are some definite signs that you should seek immediate medical care.

Seek immediate treatment if you child has stomach pain that is:

  • Accompanied by a high fever
  • Accompanied by repeated vomiting (babies younger than 3 months who are vomiting or having diarrhea should be seen right away)
  • Accompanied by other serious or unusual symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or change in child’s behavior
  • Severe (infants and babies are inconsolable)
  • Prolonged; lasting 24 or more hours
  • Localized to one particular area (e.g., the lower right quadrant could indicate appendicitis)

5 questions to ask if your child has abdominal pain.

The questions below, developed by an ER doctor for her friends and family, can be used by older children and adults to help decide if a trip to the ER is necessary.

  • Severity: Does it hurt so badly that it’s hard or impossible to concentrate or perform normal activities?
  • Vomiting: Are you vomiting? While vomiting doesn’t automatically signal a trip to the ER, if you’re unable to keep down fluids or are vomiting up blood, it’s time to go.
  • Output: Are your stools a different color than normal, such as bloody or dark black (also potentially a sign of bleeding) or are you having diarrhea? Like vomiting, diarrhea isn’t necessarily serious unless it causes dehydration. If you’re unable to keep down liquids and you’re having excessive diarrhea, you may need to have fluids administered. What about changes to your urine? Are you going more or less than normal? Is it bloody or another unusual color?
  • Other symptoms: Are you having difficulty breathing? Chest pain? Does your abdominal pain spread directly to your back?
  • Health history: Have you recently suffered an abdominal injury or had abdominal surgery? Are you pregnant or have you recently given birth? Are you on chemotherapy or do you have any other conditions that could compromise your immune system?

If you are having a medical emergency, call 911.