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Advice about Stomach Aches

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > School-aged Kids > Advice about Stomach Aches



16-year-old has irritable bowel syndrome

Feb 2012

My 16 year old son has irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). I take this diagnosis with a little grain of salt because the doctors test for certain things and when they prove to be negative, they call it IBS. Many visits to doctors didn't help with the pain he's experiencing. We have tried eliminating dairy products, fried food, but no difference. Every 3 to 4 weeks, (usually at night)he is struck with unbearable pain which lasts 2-2.5 hrs. The rest of the time, he is so worried about the pain coming back that he doesn't want to eat and has lost 12 lbs since summer. This really effects the quality of life. I would greatly appreciate any recommendations for an acupuncturist, herbalist or naturopathic doctor who is specialized in digestional or intestinal problems. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.


I was diagnosed with IBS as a teenager. I sympathize with your son--by the time I was diagnosed, I was in huge pain, and at first the not knowing why I was in pain triggered more stress and more stomachaches in a vicious cycle.

You don't mention the things he has tried. There are medicines like Bentyl that relieve muscle spams in the intestinal tract. My guess (I'm not a doctor) is that he might have to take them consistently to get results. I used Bentyl for a while but found that taking enteric-coated capsules of peppermint oil, a natural antispasmodic that has had some good results in tests, worked just as well with no side effects. Again, he might want to take it regularly (ask a doctor). Also: it makes your breath minty.

I'd continue experimenting with dietary changes. In my case, I was lactose intolerant, so learning that helped a lot. Since I tended towards constipation and my family tended towards a very low-fiber diet, I moved to more whole grains, especially bran cereal for breakfast. It took a few years to see major improvement, but I did, but again, I had years of being constipated to train my body out of.

Now, 30 years later, I don't consider IBS to be a significant part of my life. I rarely get the stomachaches that were a nightly feature of my life as a teen. I limit my dairy intake, and I don't drink a lot of liquids with meals as that does trigger stomachaches. I avoid carbonated beverages. That's about it. Encourage your son to experiment with what works for him, and expect that time will improve things if he pays attention to his body.

If you really think his doctors have not correctly diagnosed him, there are some good pediatric gastroenterologists at UCSF. life no longer revolves around stomachache


I also have a 16 year old son who had suffered a terrible bout of lower abdominal pain which lasted couple of hours for years--it sounds very similar, and the pediatrician could not diagnose it. He doubled over in severe severe pain--I mean he was sweating, and almost always at night. He thought it was from something he ate and stopped eating. But it wasn't.

We have been going to John Nelson an amazing acupuncturist now for about 2 years. His pain is down to maybe a minute of small cramp once a month now and it goes away right away. It is a miracle. He goes maybe once a month or less (due to school schedule) but takes herbs he give him. He had a nose bleed issue also, so the herbs may be for that also. Try him--he is very very kind. In Berkeley, 280-4987 really grateful mother


After seeing that only one other person and myself posted a response to this, and after reading the other response, I wanted to add something. The other responder mentioned that her/his son's pediatrician hadn't been able to diagnose anything. I really encourage people to look beyond their pediatrician to a specialist if the pediatrician runs out of ideas.

My daughter had sudden-onset severe reflux problems that started at age 15 after a trip to Central America (may/may not have been related). Our pediatrician rapidly ran out of ideas for why she was having nausea and was unable to swallow, and said it was stress. I did not buy it; my daughter is the most mellow girl, and she'd already lost 10 pounds because of her symptoms. The pediatric gastroenterologists at UCSF figured it out in one visit and she saw relief almost immediately with her meds. Pediatricians are great, but their scope is limited. glad I kept researching


1-year-old with stomach woes

Dec 2010

My (almost) one-year-old has had ill-defined stomach woes since birth. Occasional constipation, frequent extreme gassiness, stomach cramps, apparent sensitivity to many, many foods, etc. Her current primary doctor seems not to have much to offer in terms of advice, but also is unwilling at this point to refer her to a specialist. I was okay with that advice when she was 3 months, even 6 months old, thinking she might just outgrow it. But at this point I feel like I've lost confidence in her doc; I need the guidance of someone who has dealt with this kind of situation well in the past and has experience with it. I'd like someone who can make concrete dietary (or other) suggestions, who will listen to my concerns, and who will, if other steps fail, be willing to make a referral for me. I will have Blue Shield High Deductible PPO insurance starting in January; ideally I'd like to find someone in the Oakland/Castro Valley/San Leandro area. Any leads on a pediatrician who is especially good with toddlers who have digestive challenges, or who is just generally an extraordinary pediatrician? -Want Baby's Belly to Be Better


First, good for you for taking charge and not taking 'she's fine' as an answer when you know she's not. I had the same troubles with my child, who later exhibited joint and movement problems (and was misdiagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis), and even later, when she was 22, was finally diagnosed correctly with Crohn's disease. I'd be glad to talk with you about how to proceed, in general, though I imagine your baby is not having exactly the same issues as mine. mom who has been there
My niece had lots of stomach problems from birth and it turned out she had celiac disease (a gluten allegy.) Once she got on a gluten free diet her symptoms ceased. I would definitely get your child checked out for it- I believe they do a blood test- good luck. anon
you need to take your child to a pediatric gi dr. i recommend fadi haddad in walnut creek. he diagnosed a rare, chronic autoimmune disease in our 6yo recently, that mostly presented as lots of tummy aches and diarrhea, but presents differently for different patients (including the symptoms you list.) our daughter has eosinophilic esophagitis/colitis (EE/EC - more info here: http://apfed.org/), and can only be diagnosed through biopsy. it's also usually caused by food allergies, which don't always show up on traditional testing and may need to be eliminated from the diet and slowly reintroduced after some time. i don't want to scare you, but whatever is causing your child's pain needs to be determined. untreated EE/EC can lead to blockages. feel free to ask the moderator for my email/contact info if you'd like to speak further. good luck - i know all too well how hard it is to have a child in pain.

7-y-o gets a stomach ache after every meal

May 2009

My 7-y.o. daughter is normal and healthy, no allergies, trim; normal bowel habits. She complains of stomach pain near the end of every meal, and it goes away quickly, within 15 minutes or so. I thought she was just over-full, but she doesn't eat much, and says it's actual pain. All foods, not just milk or wheat, or anything specific. This has been going on for over a month. Not extreme pain, just discomfort. She can still function with the temporary pain. No vomiting or nausea. Anyone else's kid have this? Does it have a name? Will it go away on its own? Thanks for any hints... Berkeley mom


2 thoughts: either it's psychosomatic, or could be a digestive problem due to insufficient enzyme production or HCL. If it's the latter, Whole Foods carries HCL; not sure where to get enzymes. I would recommend seeing both your pediatrician and a holistic nutritionist for some more suggestions. -anon
I have similar problem, but not after every meal. It is more tied with certain condition. I will have tummy pain if I were too hungry before meal, or after having cold drink before meal. My solution is to have a warm/hot drink before/during meal and to keep dummy area warm all the time. I hope you can find the right solution for your daughter.

10-year-old's constant stomach aches, can't get her to school

May 2009

Help! Our 10 year old has perpetual stomach aches and most days can't get her to school. We have had her tested for all physical possibilites and everything came back just fine. We know it is stress/anxiety induced (began with a school play she was in but later never participated because of this). Her self esteem is so low right now. My husband and I are so worried about her and how this is affecting all of us. We are beginning to work with a therapist now. Will this go away? How long can this go on? My energy level is so low, I'm mentally and physically tired. Each morning is a huge struggle to get her in school. Some days it works for an hour or two, some days not at all. How do we get through this while keeping her esteem in tact? jle


I feel for you. It's so hard to see your children in distress. Both my girls had chronic stomach aches which we thought were stress-induced. However, we found out that one daughter had an H. Pylori infection, which resolved after some intense antibiotics (I've since heard that broccoli sprouts also fight this infection). The other daughter could not handle the calcium supplements I was giving her (on the doctor's recommendation). Calcium supplements, I believe, are a pretty common cause of stomach upset - my friends' kids also had stomach problems when they took those gummy chewies, etc. A lot of doctors don't warn you about this. I hope your daughter gets better!! effie
I don't know whether my experience can be of help, but just in case: I had debilitating stomach aches before school every morning around the same age as your daughter. Tests showed nothing. I heard on a regular basis that I was making it up, scared to go to school for some reason, trying to get out of tests or homework I hadn't done, lacked self-confidence--on and on. I had no explanation. Until decades later, when it all connected up in retrospect: my mother had tried conscientiously to get an egg into me at breakfast by putting it in the blender with some milk and a little chocolate powder. Little did any of us know that, between the air that was beaten into this concoction, and my sensitivity to both dairy and chocolate, we were making me physically sick every single morning. Milk gives me stomach cramps, and chocolate makes me feel jittery, low-energy, distracted. Would it make sense just to check your daughter's breakfast? I know it sounds kind of silly, and not nearly ''psychological'' enough--but I saw my son also felt unwell when he bolted milk and cereal in the mornings, or had cold juice and toast. Now we get up early to cook hot breakfasts--and an added benefit of the calm and the warm food have been that he rarely gets the flu or colds anymore. Worth a try? Hot Breakfast Was Our Key
Please have your child examined by a pediatric cardiologist. Stomach aches, headaches, muscle pain and vomiting can be symptoms of heart failure in a child. Children do *not* have the same heart failure symptoms as adults. This is not easy to diagnose since most doctors do not have the experience to evaluate this condition. Lucille Packard Childrens Hospital is the best for this, as they see this all the time. Good luck. Lynne
I know you'll get lots of advice and will need to choose what works for you. One possibility would be to take your daughter out of the regular school system. For some kids, going to school is very anxiety producing. The School for Independent Learners in Albany is an interesting alternative, much more low key, with kids around, but just a few, and one-on-one or very small group ''mastery learning,'' in which they just stick with the subject till the kid gets it. They are accredited and teach to the standards needed for the UC system. Just one more thought to add to the many that will come your way. sympathetic
My neighbor's 9-year-old daughter had stomach aches brought on by stress due to not fitting in. She described it as a constant knot in her stomach which worsened after coming home from school. The stress was caused by feeling left out. She was bright but shy, a sheltered only child who hadn't learned how to make friends. Her anxiety was brought on by having to go to school without having anyone to play with or eat lunch with and then she'd get the stomach aches upon returning home. Mom began organising small weekly play dates and invited a few girls over. Playdates were reciprocated and she felt included and became more independent. Mom enlisted her teacher to pair her with girls knowing she was too shy to pick a partner. They also had her join a girls' basketball team to learn how to interact in a group. She blossomed once given attention and is now doing well in middle school. Sam
My daughter had similiar sympotms at the same age and we had her tested for celiac disease(below taken from WebMD). It turned out to be negative, but at least I could cross that off my list. It might be worth a try. Good Luck!

''What is celiac disease? Celiac disease is a problem some people have with foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a kind of protein found in foods like bread, crackers, and pasta. With celiac disease, your immune system attacks the gluten and harms your small intestine when you eat these kinds of foods. This makes it hard for your body to absorb nutrients that keep you healthy.'' mom


6.5 year old's tummy constantly hurts

Dec 1999

We have a 6.5 year old daughter who complains constantly about not feeling good because her tummy hurts. We took her to the doctor about a year ago because of it and were told that many children have this ailment. It was diagnosed as recurrent abdominal pain--sort of a vague, generic, catch-all.

The doctor said kids eventually out grow this and that if she does not have a temperature and isn't vomiting, that she should carry on with her regular schedule. He didn't really want to do further testing, which he felt would be invasive, stressful and most likely yield negative results. We did have her tested for celiac and h-phylori, which were both negative.

We accepted the doctor's assessment (we believe we have a very good doctor and want to trust his judgment) and have tried downplaying the problem so that our daughter doesn't develop a self-image centered on illness. But it's gotten to the point where we are concerned about other negative effects. For starters, she seems to have a short attention span. Initially she will become engaged in activities, but then the pain intrudes and she doesn't feel well enough to want to continue with whatever she was doing. She doesn't want to go to school because she feels sick and wants to stay home with mom. The first thing we hear in the morning and the last thing at night is that she doesn't feel good. Often times she doesn't want to eat, even if hungry, because either her tummy already hurts or she's afraid if she eats it will start to hurt. Because of this pain she often seems tired, whiny, and irritable, which are having some impact on her ability to make friends. She tends to suck her fingers alot and I think it's her way of seeking comfort because of her constant state of discomfort.

We are having difficulty knowing how to parent such a child. Do we act nurturing and sympathetic and risk having her learn that being sick is a way to get special attention? Do we ignore it and have her feel neglected?

We can't keep her home everytime she feels bad or we'd be home schooling. If anyone has any advice it would be greatly appreciated!


Are these really stomach pains or lower belly? Are her bowel movements fairly regular? Are there any particular food sensitivities? (Speaking as someone who had lower belly pains as a kid. It turned out that a large, though not complete, part of the problem was constipation.)
My daughter also suffered with stomach pain when she was about 3 years old and I tend to think it's bowel related. Have you checked to see that she is going to the bathroom pretty much every day and that her stools are soft? You can put oat bran into oatmeal and hot cereal, make bran muffins, etc.
My heart goes out for you and your daughter. I am not a doctor, just talking from the instinct of a mother, I would be as concerned as you are since the pain you described is affecting your daughter's daily life and probably her physical growth. I've been having stomach problems all my life (I am now 29) (or as long as I have reliable memory, it may go back to your daughter's age). Not pain, but discomfort. What I realized as an adult was that my diet had a lot to do with my stomach. My nutritionist said that I may just have a sensitive stomach. Pay close attention to my diet not only what I eat, but when and how much helps a lot. For example, if I eat before I go to bed, it will certainly cause a problem. Certain food such as pizza and bagel should be avoided. Small meals are better than huge ones. Eating slowly is better than gobbling. You have ruled out celiac etc. But I would suggest that you take your daughter to see a nutritionist. I do not know whether there is any who specializes in ped. Nutrition. I wish she can get well and be healthy!
My younger son had a stomach ache almost every morning before school from the 2nd grade till about the 7th grade. There wasn't any detectable physical problem. He did not get a stomach ache on weekends or holidays. Thinking it was stress, I changed him into a smaller school in the 5th grade (initial improvement but then back to the stomach aches). He doesn't get them anymore. In retrospect, I still think it may have been stress, but I also think it may have been his diaphragm that hurt, not his stomach. He wheezes and gets asthma with colds - when it's harder to breathe, your stomach muscles get sore.
My son also had this complaint throughout all of elementary school. I remember it too from my childhood. He grew out of it by 6th grade. It usually only lasted a few minutes at most but recurred several time during the day, every day. Our Pediatrician also told us this was a very common childhood complaint which the child usually outgrows. I would encourage our son to quickly lie down on his stomach on a hard surface (the carpeted floor) and it would be gone shortly. It always was gone quickly. I also told him that I too had the same thing as a child. That helped some too. We never let it become an issue for going to school - though it could have been. He did have one bout of H-pylori in the 4th grade but the symptoms were completely different. (H-pylori in children we were told is very unusual. It certainly was difficult for our HMO to diagnose.)
Our now 5 1/2 year old daughter complained about stomach pains alot also, beginning about a year ago. We were told the same thing by our doctor, that it was common for this age particularly in girls and she would out grow it. I consulted our homeopath who basically told us the same thing but that she felt that cranial sacral treatments done by an osteopath is often very helpful. We were always sympathetic to her pains, which seemed to not last for very long, but none the less were troublesome. After this went on for a few months, I took her to Catherine Henderson (845-8284) who is above the Peet's coffee near Vine and Shatuck in Berkeley. She was trained in England and has a very good reputation in this country. We had about 4 treatments, and the improvement was remarkable. I would be happy to answer more specific questions. lark
The stomach pain/discomfort may be due to Irritable bowel syndrome (one of the possible causes). You may want to take her to see a gastroenterologist before you take her to a nutritionist. Unfortunately, IBS can not be diagnosed with certainty. The conclusion is basically reached through exclusion of other illnesses. Fortunately, however, people with IBS usually do not have organ damage and can expect to live a life as long and healthy as people without it. My heart goes out for you and your daughter. I am not a doctor, just talking from the instinct of a mother, I would be as concerned as you are since the pain you described is affecting your daughter's daily life and probably her physical growth. I've been having stomach problems all my life (I am now 29) (or as long as I have reliable memory, it may go back to your daughter's age). Not pain, but discomfort. What I realized as an adult was that my diet had a lot to do with my stomach. My nutritionist said that I may just have a sensitive stomach. Pay close attention to my diet not only what I eat, but when and how much helps a lot. For example, if I eat before I go to bed, it will certainly cause a problem. Certain better food such as pizza and bagel should be avoided. Small meals are are than huge ones. Eating slowly is better than gobbling. You have ruled out celiac etc. But I would suggest that you take your daughter to see a nutritionist. I do not know whether there is any who specialized in ped. Nutrition. I wish she can get well and be healthy!
I feel sad for your daughter having to endure a tummy ache while trying to concentrate at school. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), children only suffer from a single disease: indigestion. Is your child thriving? Is she losing weight? How is her overall diet? Where does her tummy hurt and does it hurt more when touched? Does she have circles under her eyes but sleeping well at night? If she has not always had these pains, when did they begin?

Being in pain is not a natural state for the body. If you cannot seek a second opinion or have gone as far as you can with allopathic medicine, I would offer the following suggestions:

1. Seek a diet counselor/nutrition counselor who can work with you to examine potential allergens in your child's diet and environment. With support, you can do an elimination/provocation diet to identify what might be causing her tummy ache. You may contact me if you wish, as I am a diet counselor and have experience in these matters with myself and son. 2. Try TCM with a competent acupuncturist/herbalist who will"listen" to your child's pulses and see what imbalances may be contributing to her pain. Find someone who works with children. 3. Try Jin Shin Jyutsu, a kind of touch therapy you can learn from a practitioner and do yourself with your daughter. This is a holistic approach to helping the body heal. For example, it is important to note which fingers your child is sucking. I recommend Barbara Baiardi (235-0616) who has worked for 20 years with children. She is a true healer.


The parents might experiment with her diet, to see if that helps. My daughter had frequent stomach complaints which GREATLY diminished when we eliminated milk from her diet. (She still has other dairy products, but several cups of milk daily were just too much for her stomach to handle).
If your doctor tested for Celiac Disease I would say your confidence is well-earned (doctor's are woefully undereducated about this disease). While your daughter may not test positive for Celiac Disease, her symptoms indicate that she may have gluten intolerance or enteropathy or perhaps lactose intolerance. The best way to test for this is to put her on a gluten-free and lactose-free diet for a month or so. If she is sensitive to gluten you may see improvement in as little as 2 weeks. The short attention span may be related to the intolerance. Those of us who are intolerant to gluten or lactose fondly call it as 'brain fog'. If you add gluten or lactose back in after the month is over (one at a time) and the symptoms come back, you have your answer. Please feel free to contact me if you would like more information. I suffered with gluten intolerance until I was 45 years old. I struggled though low stamina, a poor self image, metabolic disorders, and unnecessary surgeries (and ensuing complications) because I was labeled a 'sensitive' child. I'd hate to see your daughter suffer needlessly.
Perhaps the approach of Homeopathic medicine might have a solution to your daughter's discomfort. Homeopathic medicine can sometimes really remedy ailment that western medicine says we will outgrow (which we will, but at a cost for the duration). We go to the Hahneman Clinic and see Christine Ciavarella 510/524-3117. There are lots of good homeopathic doctors in the area.

10-year-old has "abdominal migraines"

Nov 2000

My 10 year old daughter has been experiencing stomach and headaches almost every day for nine months now. We've done all sorts of tests and all are fine. We're also pretty sure it's not stress related given its patterns. She enjoys school and has great friends. We're new to the newsletter so even if this subject has been covered before, we'd appreciate any insight (and/or ideas on how to find previous discussions about this on-line).

Here are our specific questions but general ideas also welcome:

Are there other parents out there who have been dealing with this same issue and how are you handling it?

It's possible she has "abdominal migraines" and we are trying out periactin. Any info on this medication and diagnosis?

Thanks so much, Mary


Very often headaches/stomach aches are results of a food sensitivity or some other allergy. It may not be an actual "allergy" that will show up on an allergy test, but rather a sensitivity or imbalance in the body. I've found that most pediatricians I've dealt with with my son's allergies are not terribly knowledgable about food sensitivities in children. You might try someone who practices alternative health care. Acupuncturists, chiropractors, nutritional counsellors, cranio/sacral therapy,....there are so many possibilities. If you'd like some recommendations please e-mail me. June
Although I see that you have had "all kinds of tests", I might recommend talking to your child's pediatrician about the possibility of celiac testing for your child, given the symptoms. It's not a condition that doctors in the U.S. immediately reach for when presented with chronic/recurrent stomach aches/headaches, but in European countries (I have read), it is something that is routinely tested for so that an early diagnosis can be made and dietary adjustments can be initiated. Since my niece was finally diagnosed after 9 years of various allergies/pains/headaches/skin conditions, and a co-worker's child at a (thankfully!) much younger age, I am very pro-active in suggesting this in the case of non-specific stomach and headaches in children. Apparently, this intolerance to wheat/gluten products is more prevalent than we realize in the U.S., and children suffer needlessly as a result of general lack of information. Eileen
As a 10 year old, I suffered from constant headaches that were never fully diagnosed. I was prescribed Dilantin after they found a slightly abnormal EEG (possibly a mild form of epilepsy), and the headaches stopped. I assume your daughter has seen a neurologist and had an EEG to look for possible abnormalities. If not, you may want to ask your doctor.
Also see: Advice about Headaches
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