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Headaches & Tummyaches

I see a fair number of children between the ages of 4-7 who complain about headaches and tummy aches. This is a common age for children to begin talking about...

I see a fair number of children between the ages of 4-7 who complain about headaches and tummy aches. This is a common age for children to begin talking about “aches and pains”.  I know this from my own parenting experience, as I had a child who for several years had frequent tummy aches.  They usually appeared after breakfast while en route to school, or when he had to get to his piano lesson, or maybe a sporting event he just wasn’t in the mood for that day. They seemed to be random complaints but they were frequent.  

The advantage that I had is that I knew a bit about kids and stomach aches. He was growing well, he slept well at night and those tummy aches did not wake him up from his sleep (once he finally went to bed). He did not have a fever with these mystery tummy aches. He did not vomit (okay once in a while he got that vomit bug, but not all of the time). His stools were “normal”, in other words he was not always having diarrhea, nor was he constantly constipated and there was not blood in his stool. But, he sure did talk about his tummy a lot! 

So, I asked his teacher (who was also a mother) about his tummy aches, and she said that he did sometimes complain, but it usually did not last long. She was very good at reassuring.  He occasionally went to the nurse (another mother) where he was allowed to get a peppermint or lie down for a bit before being sent back to class with a hug and an encouraging word. Fortunately, they were not calling his parents to pick him up every time his tummy hurt. 

Next, I asked his friend’s parents. When he was in carpool with them was he complaining, did he complain when he was at their house playing etc, etc?  I also asked them and myself, “was he missing birthday parties or play dates because of these tummy aches.”  I mean over and over again? 

So, luckily I did not “GOOGLE” abdominal pain and decide that he had stomach cancer, an ulcer, gallbladder disease, celiac disease, a parasite, an allergy to food etc.  He just had little boy tummy aches. Does that come up on GOOGLE?  Is there ever an answer that it might be something that is not terrible?

But when a parent comes in with their child for evaluation of tummy aches I often find that the parent has been quite anxious about what is causing their child’s stomachaches, and they are now obsessing about it. They ask their child all of the time “does your tummy hurt?” They have found articles about “child with tummy ache has a worm that eats stomachs”. “Dr. Sue we have to do blood tests and tummy tests!” 

Anxiety from a parent can often be sensed by a child. So can a parent’s reaction to a child’s complaints are very important. That is not to say that you should ignore your child. But rather maybe acknowledge the “ache or pain” and then start thinking about your child’s overall health picture, rather than just the tummy (or head etc)  

You may be relieved like I was that the tummy aches, while persistent were not alarming, but they were there, for a long time. They eventually went away to be replaced by something else. 

I know for a fact in both parenting and practicing that BAD THINGS get worse. There are new symptoms or worsening of symptoms that will declare themselves before “the stomach is eaten by the mysterious worm”. 

Lastly, as we get to the end of school I often remind parents to see how that tummy ache is in June, July and August. I bet I don’t see many tummy aches until after Labor Day and that is reassuring for all of us.

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

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About Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award winning pediatrician and medical editor for www.kidsdr.com.  She is a native of Washington, D.C. who travelled south to attend the University of Texas at Austin and never left.Read More

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