How can I tell if my child's abdominal pain is a sign of a serious illness?

There are many potential causes of belly pain. Any pain that is severe or lasts for a long time deserves a visit to the office. For pain that happens suddenly, call your child's pediatrician or seek emergency care if:

  • the stomach pain is severe and prevents walking or normal movement
  • the pain is felt in the right lower part of the belly
  • your child has refused to eat or drink at all since the pain started
  • your child refuses or is unable to jump up and land on their heels without the pain becoming significantly worse
  • the stomach is very swollen (looks like a balloon in their belly)
  • your child is very irritable (constantly crying) or very tired (lethargic)
  • your child recently had a minor or moderate injury to the stomach and now has significant pain
  • the stomach pain occurs with frequent urination or pain with urination
  • your child has signs of dehydration with vomiting or diarrhea (seek immediate medical help if there is bloody diarrhea)
  • there is any possibility of a poisoning or toxic exposure
  • your child has a high fever
  • your child has stomach pain along with a significant cough and signs of distress

For long-term (chronic) abdominal pain, call your child's pediatrician if:

  • the pain causes nighttime awakening
  • there is blood in your child's stool
  • your child has lost weight

This answer was created with the help of physicians at South Riding Pediatrics ( and

Your child’s abdominal pain may be a sign of a serious illness if your child starts missing school, or missing his or her usual activities. Symptoms to keep an eye on include weight loss, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, vomiting and recurrent or persistent fever. These may indicate possibly organic etiology causing the abdominal pain.

Abdominal pain accompanied by any of the following signs could indicate that the child is suffering from a serious condition or illness:

  • A sudden onset of severe abdominal pain or pain that becomes worse with time
  • Excessive vomiting or diarrhea
  • Blood in the vomit or stool
  • Bloated or swollen abdomen
  • A change in the child’s level of consciousness, such as drowsiness or confusion
  • Signs of shock

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.