common back to school causes of stomach ache in kids

The Dreaded Back To School Tummy Ache

As the summer quickly ends and we make plans to head back to school, thousands of children will head to their pediatrician or be seen in the ER with complaints of belly pain.  A new classroom, new teacher, and the stress of a new school year, can lead to a lot of anxiety for our little ones. As a pediatrician and a mom, I know first hand how hard it can be to determine whether the tummy ache is just nerves or something we need to worry about. There are many factors that can lead to the dreadful back to school tummy ache. Today, we are going to be breaking down the common causes of back to school tummy aches, important treatments, and identify when it might be something more.

The Dreaded Back To School Tummy Ache

Is this tummy ache real or are they just trying to avoid going back to school?  Although there is no way to be sure if your child is faking it, it is important not to dismiss their pain, but rather try and get to the root of the problem.  Children cope with stress in many different ways.  Ask them how they are feeling about the new school year and what concerns they may have.  Many times they just need our support and reassurance. It is amazing what encouraging words can do for our children. I love this article on helpful ways to ease your child’s nerves about heading back to school.

Gastritis.  Diet along with back to school stress can lead to gastritis. Gastritis is an irritation of the lining of the stomach. Your child will typically complain of a persistent burning sensation in the upper middle portion of the stomach. Depending upon the cause of the gastritis, this pain can either get worse or better with food.  Along with this pain, they may also have symptoms of nausea, bloating, and decreased appetite. If your child is someone who already suffers from gastritis, you might find that their symptoms get worse during the first months of school. It is important to have the right medicines in the house to try and help combat the symptoms. In the past, there wasn’t much on the market to help treat symptoms associated with upset stomach and indigestion. Mylicon has recently come out with a line of Children’s Tummy Relief that is the only multi-symptom product available for upset tummies for kids ages 2-11! They are fast acting, chewable tablets that have active ingredients, including antacids to treat gas, bloating, and indigestion. Diet is very important when trying to alleviate the symptoms of gastritis. There are certain foods that can exacerbate your child’s symptoms. Make sure to avoid spicy foods, tomatoes, citrus, chocolate, and caffeine (found in soda and tea). Gastritis can be caused by a number of things, so it is important to have your child evaluated by the pediatrician. If your child is having severe abdominal pain, vomiting, or black, tarry stools, have them evaluated immediately.

Constipation.  Summer is all about BBQs, smores, and bug juice. Unfortunately, these late nights, poor diet, and decreased hydration can lead to upset tummies and constipation. Constipation is defined as infrequent bowel movements with difficulty or pain passing stool. Constipation can cause a variety of symptoms, making it difficult to diagnosis. Your child will typically complain of a lower belly pain that is crampy in nature. The pain is usually intermittent and worsens after eating. They may also complain of pain with bowel movements and have stool that is hard and dark in consistency. Constipation can lead to gas pain which is very sharp and painful in nature. The intense nature of gas pain brings thousands of worried parents to the emergency room annually. It is important to alleviate gas pain as it can cause extreme discomfort for your child. Children’s Mylicon Gas Relief contains the same active ingredients doctors and parents have trusted for decades for infants, now available in chewable form for older kids. These chewable tablets are fast acting, gentle on the stomach, and safe. Once the gas pain is under control, it is important to treat the constipation.  Never start your child on a laxative without the guidance of their pediatrician. Their doctor might want to perform labs and imaging and will create a treatment plan that is best for your child.  Diet is an important part of healthy digestion. Starting a high fiber diet and ensuring your child is drinking a lot of water is very important to alleviating constipation. If at anytime your child is experiencing persistent or worsening abdominal pain, vomiting, or fever, have them evaluated immediately.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  More and more children are being diagnosed with IBS. Irritable bowel syndrome is a gastrointestinal disorder that causes a cluster of symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, and bouts of diarrhea and constipation. It is more commonly found in the adolescent population but can occur in any age group. Anxiety or depression have been observed in many children suffering with IBS, although a direct relationship hasn’t been established. Stress, such as back to school, can lead to an exacerbation of symptoms. It is important that if your child is suffering from these symptoms, you have them evaluated by their pediatrician. Lab work and imaging may be required.

Functional Abdominal Pain.  Functional abdominal pain is the most common cause of chronic abdominal pain in the adolescent population. This pain is recurrent in nature and typically occurs around the belly button. It can be associated with bloating, nausea, and lost of appetite. Functional abdominal pain is a diagnosis of exclusion. Labs and imaging reveal no organic cause for the pain, however, it is important understand that this doesn’t mean your child doesn’t have pain. This can be a very frustrating for the child suffering with chronic belly pain as well as the parents. Many times conventional pain management doesn’t work. Diet and alternative methods of pain management have shown to have helpful in the treatment of this pain.

While we have discussed some of the common causes of back to school tummy aches, unfortunately we can’t possibly cover them all. There are many things that can cause belly pain in children, some benign and some more serious. I have never told a parent that it was a mistake to bring their child in to be evaluated. The reality is, once you become a parent, you develop what I like to call, “mommy or daddy instinct.”  If your instinct is telling you something is not right, you should immediately have your child evaluated. If you have them evaluated and the doctor tells you they are okay, but you still feel there is something very wrong, get them re-evaluated. As parents, we are our children’s only voice!

Dr. Katie

*This post is sponsored, but all opinions are my own*


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