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Stress and Stomachaches: A Doctor's Insight Into Your Child’s Tummy Troubles

Stress and Stomachaches: A Doctor's Insight Into Your Child’s Tummy Troubles

As a parent or caretaker, it can be difficult to determine if a child’s tummy ache is indigestion or something more serious.

One common but often undiagnosed cause of tummy trouble is stress, often resulting from a major change in a child’s environment. These changes can include parents divorcing or newly dating, the arrival of a new sibling, changing schools, or going to live with grandparents or other caretakers. Bullying can also cause tension in a child and result in stomach pain.

“It is very common for children to have upset stomachs when they are anxious, depressed or bullied,” says Emily Chan, MD, Valley Health Shenandoah Memorial Hospital Multispecialty Clinic – Family and Internal Medicine. “Stress plays a huge factor. Kids might say, ‘Mommy, my tummy hurts’ if there is a kid at school that is bullying them or if they do not get along well with their teacher.”

A stomachache can also result when a child experiences embarrassment or discomfort at school.

“I have seen problems in terms of retaining urine, wetting pants, holding stool, and constipation when kids do not feel comfortable using the bathrooms at school,” Dr. Chan says. “I encourage teaching kids not to bother other kids when they use the bathroom. No peeking underneath the stalls and no making fun of a kid for emptying their bowels at school. Also, parents can check to see if the bathrooms at school are clean. Sometimes that can make a child feel uncomfortable.”

When to See a Doctor

Traditional stomach pain usually resolves itself with rest, lots of fluids, a bowel movement, passing gas, and/or the passage of time.

However, if your child’s pain does not get better and you suspect tension is the cause, look for signs of anxiety including:

  • changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • social withdrawal
  • lack of energy
  • trouble paying attention
  • clinginess in young children

Try to talk to your child about their worries or plan a visit with their pediatrician. A doctor will be happy to discuss any potential issues and come up with treatment options that work best for your child.

If you aren’t sure whether your child’s stomach pain is stress-related—and if there is severe pain, blood in the stool, diarrhea, a fever and cough, pain when urinating, and/or unexplained weight loss—call your doctor and schedule an appointment immediately.

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