Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Children and tummy aches.

Children of all ages often complain about having tummy aches. Frequently it's just one of those things that disappears by itself. (When my 3 year old complains of having a tummy ache, it's normally because he needs to do a poo.) But how do you know if it's something serious?  Or, what most people want to know is, why? What is causing my child's tummy ache?

Well, the interesting thing about medical science is that it may be able to do amazing things like face transplants and brain surgery, but often it can't tell you why your child has a tummy ache. Even if children are admitted to hospital and lots of tests done on them, often we don't find out what the cause is. What you as a parent wants to know is 'what is it' but what your doctor wants to know is 'is it serious'? Two slightly different questions.

So, let's start by thinking about things that might make us think it's serious. Firstly, how is your child? Are they well or unwell? If they're unwell, fever, not eating, vomiting, that sort of thing, your doctor will want to know if they have appendicitis. Appendicitis is an infection of a little bit of your gut that sits in the lower right hand bit of your tummy (in the majority of people). The appendix isn't really thought to be used for much in humans, apparently rabbits have large appendices, something to do with digesting all that grass but don't quote me on that.  Anyhow, the point is it can get inflamed and infected and then it needs to be removed with an operation. Your doctor will do lots of prodding and poking your child's tummy to help them decide if they may have appendicitis.

What else would make your doctor concerned? If the tummy pain had been going on for a long time, if your child wasn't eating or growing well. If it was associated with symptoms such as diarrhoea (over a long period of time, not just for a day or two) or blood in your poo.

There are lots and lots of causes of tummy ache and some are easily diagnosed. For example, constipation, urinary tract infections and diarrhoea are all common causes of tummy ache. Sometimes children get inflamed lymph nodes in their tummy when they have an infection somewhere else ('abdominal lymphadenitis'). But sometimes it has to be put down to 'one of those things' and hope that it doesn't last too long.

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