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Kids and Stomachaches: When a Tummy Ache Needs a Doctor's Visit

Deciding when it’s time to call the doctor is one of the great parenting dilemmas. Kids have countless aches and pains that need nothing more than a kiss to make them feel better. In fact, almost 90% of pediatric stomach aches defy medical explanation. 

But every once in a while, one of those complaints might indicate something serious. You don’t want to be an alarmist, but you also don’t want your child to suffer. Dr. Ravneet Dhaliwal at Night Watch Pediatric Urgent Care in Manassas, Virginia, understands your concerns and has put together this checklist to help you navigate your child’s various types of tummy aches.

It’s an emergency!

If your child can’t move, is not responding to you, can’t stand or walk, or is unconscious — call 911 immediately. 

Call a doctor when ... 

No one knows your child like you do. You know the difference in the sound of their cry when they’re in pain versus when they’d rather not eat what you served for dinner. You know when they’re bending the truth and when they’re completely sincere. It’s helpful to rely on these familiar signs when they complain of a stomach ache, because any one or combination of those emotions and motivations may be at play.

But what if all the signs of genuine discomfort are there? Should you treat your child yourself or call a doctor? Here are some guidelines to help you decide.

How bad is it?

A good rule of thumb when determining the severity of pain or discomfort is whether or not you can distract your child. If nothing comforts them or takes their mind off the pain, come in to Night Watch Pediatric Urgent Care.

Is blood involved?

What comes out of your child when they’re sick helps us figure out the cause. If you see red blood or black streaks in their vomit or stool, it could mean they have an infection or inflammation that needs our attention. It could also mean that they’ve been constipated, had a nosebleed, or lost a tooth. We can get to the bottom of it when you bring them in to see us.

Another note about vomit: If it’s green, they should be seen. Green vomit may indicate intestinal blockage.

Is a fever present?

A fever is a sign that your body is fighting off an infection. So if your child has a fever along with a stomach ache, chances are they have a virus. Keep a close eye on them and watch for other symptoms as well. 

For instance, if they have trouble catching their breath or their breathing pattern changes or they develop a bad cough, call us, as these are signs of pneumonia. 

Likewise, if the stomach ache and fever are accompanied by lethargy and sleepiness, this could indicate low blood pressure, and we need to examine your child to find out the cause.

Where is the pain?

Many stomach aches are general and hurt all over, but pain that starts in the middle around the belly button then moves to the lower right side may point to appendicitis. But don’t jump to conclusions until we check them out, because it could also simply be constipation or menstrual cramps.

Does it hurt to urinate?

Childrens’ bodies are compact, and it may be hard for them to differentiate between a stomach ache and bladder or urinary tract pain. A simple urinalysis can tell us if there’s an infection we need to clear up.

Trust your instinct

If your child’s stomach ache doesn’t seem to fall into any of these categories, but you still feel it needs medical attention, don’t hesitate to contact us:

We’re here when you need us.

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