New poll suggests 1 in 6 parents report their child has stomach aches at least once a month

Most parents couldn’t tell the difference between serious and non-serious causes

Belly pain, or what most parents call a tummy ache, is common among kids and is often harmless.

But a new poll found that many children have tummy pain at least once a month, and their parents aren’t contacting their child’s doctor as often as they should.

Often, when a child gets to Dr. Frank McGeorge in the emergency room, their parents have already talked to their doctor and identified a concern that he evaluates. In many cases, however, the children and their parents don’t get any doctor’s insight which is a missed opportunity.

“We found that one in six parents report that their child has abdominal pain at least once a month, which is quite frequent,” said Dr. Susan Woolford. “Amongst those parents whose children have pain, at least once a month, 42% of them don’t contact their child’s primary care provider.”

Woolford is a pediatrician and co-director of the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital poll on children’s health.

She says it was worrisome because abdominal pain occurring that frequently could seriously impact a child and their family’s life.

“The primary care provider could serve as a partner for parents in trying to one, work out the cause of the abdominal pain and two, help with treatment,” Woolford said.

Another finding in the poll often found that abdominal discomfort was not a physical issue.

“We found that approximately one in four parents reported that their child has pain that’s due to something like anxiety, worry, or school avoidance,” Woolford said. “This is very concerning because such pain can be really hard to treat.”

The most common way parents handled anxiety-related belly pain was by talking with the child 71% of the time, using relaxation exercises 53%, distracting them 53%, and allowing them to miss school or activities 16% of the time.

If you don’t contact your child’s doctor, red flags of something more concerning to watch for are any associated fevers, vomiting, blood in the vomit or stool, intense pain that wakes a child or limits their activity and specific locations of the pain like the lower right over the appendix.

The poll found that two-thirds of parents indicated that they were not very certain they could tell the difference between serious and non-serious causes.

McGeorge tends to agree with that but he does find most parents could tell when something’s different with their child, and that’s often the most important thing.

About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.