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Recurrent Abdominal Pain in Children: An Overview

Watching your child suffer from stomach aches can be very hard. However, every parent is familiar with the stomach ache that goes away when it's playtime or snack time. It seems to come back once all the fun things are done for the day. Sometimes they may surface every time you want your child to clean up or do chores around the house. What do you do if your child is really suffering from recurrent abdominal pain?

Book an appointment to consult Dr. Anshul Bhargava for pediatric concerns

Recurrent Abdominal Pain in Children

Recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) in children is different from regular stomach aches children experience as an effect of indigestion or a reaction to some foods they eat. RAP is quite common among children of the school-going age.

Stomach aches are classified as recurrent abdominal pain in children when they have such episodes at least 3 times in the last 3 months. The pain is so intense that it interferes with the child’s daily activities and the pain can last for different periods of time.

In most cases of RAP, the abdominal pain is acute from the beginning and the causes could be gastrointestinal or extraintestinal in nature. However, over the years, doctors have not found any specific organic cause for recurrent abdominal pain in children.

RAP refers to the frequency of abdominal pain in children and the duration of each of these episodes. Usually, the location of the pain is around the central stomach region but it is very difficult to confirm the same. When young children suffer from acute abdominal pain, they tend to clutch the entire stomach area and complain of pain. It is the parents or caregivers who notice changes and report the observations and feedback to the doctor

Recurrent Abdominal Pain Treatment

In case of recurrent abdominal pain, Indian pediatrics do not generally recommend any medication. Since the exact cause for these recurrent abdominal pain episodes is unclear, it is not easy to decide on one particular treatment.

Abdominal pain treatment in children usually involves addressing the concerns of the patient and caregiver, examining the area of pain and making adjustments to improve the quality of life. Since these episodes interfere with the child’s daily activities, doctors focus on reducing the disability rather than finding a complete solution for the pain.

In some cases of acute pain, psychological or hypnotherapy can also help. If your child is stressed or shows signs of anxiety, you can take them to a therapist for cognitive behavioral therapy. This can help your child change the way they think about certain aspects that cause them stress or anxiety. It can also help them perceive these RAP episodes differently.

Causes of Recurrent Abdominal Pain in Children

The causes of RAP can differ from child to child. Some of the probable causes are:

  • Functional bowel syndrome – If there is no detection of any physical cause, the diagnosis will be a functional bowel disorder. However, if the pain seems to affect other parts of the body as well, it is diagnosed as functional bowel syndrome.
  • Constipation – A common issue among children of school-going age, especially if they are exposed to outside foods frequently. Lower left side abdominal pain in child is usually due to constipation.
  • Urinary tract infections – UTIs can have various symptoms including recurrent abdominal pain.
  • Functional Dyspepsia – Stomach upsets and pain without any apparent reason.
  • Abdominal migraine – It affects many children with RAP
  • IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome is when eating a particular class of foods can irritate the bowel and trigger a reaction that is usually accompanied by pain. It is more common among adults than children.
  • Coeliac Disease – The immune system’s reaction to gluten – a common component in many foods. Abdominal pain episodes flare up every time the child consumes gluten in any form.
  • Lactose Intolerance – The body’s inability to process lactose – a common ingredient in dairy products. Consuming dairy products can cause abdominal bloating, discomfort and pain.
  • Mesenteric Adenitis – An Inflammation of the lymph glands in the stomachs of children below the age of five. It is usually caused by viral infections and will settle in two to three days.
  • Giardia Infection – A digestive infection that leads to flatulence, diarrhea, bloating, nausea and stomach ache.
  • Stress – Anxiety or stress can cause recurrent abdominal pain in children at night.

Diagnosing Recurrent Abdominal Pain in Children

Diagnosing RAP in children can be tricky, as many times it is more psychological than physical. Children tend to complain of pain in various parts of their bodies when psychologically uncomfortable.

When you take your child to the doctor due to complaints of recurrent abdominal pain, the doctor will do the following to confirm a diagnosis:

  • Take a detailed history of the symptoms and frequency of episodes
  • Clinical examination
  • Look for causes apart from regular gastrointestinal causes
  • Abdominal ultrasonography or other imaging tests such as X-rays
  • Inflammatory markers – Set of blood tests to check inflammations in the body
  • Endoscopy
  • Urine test
  • Stool test
  • Gastroscopy – When they suspect ulcers or other issues in the small intestine


Recurrent abdominal pain in children can be something as simple as indigestion or more severe causes. Sometimes, it is very difficult to identify the exact cause of recurrent abdominal pain in children. Helping your child perceive this pain differently and making a few lifestyle adjustments including dietary changes can go a long way in such scenarios.

Also Read : Ear Infection among Kids


1. What causes recurrent abdominal pain in children?

Recurrent abdominal pain in children could be due to gastrointestinal issues or some infection. It could also be due to stress and anxiety. There is no one particular cause for RAP in children.

2. What if abdominal pain comes and goes in children?

If abdominal pain comes and goes in children, it is recurrent in nature. A doctor can help you identify the cause and come up with treatment options to help improve your child’s quality of life. In children of school-going age, recurrent stomach aches could be due to various reasons. A detailed examination by a doctor can help you identify if it is an organic cause or a psychological cause like stress and anxiety.

Want to consult the Best Pediatricians in India? Please find the links below.

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