When Tummy Aches End Up in the ER

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Abdominal pain in children in emergency room was most commonly constipation

May 19, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

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(dailyRx News) Stomach aches are not uncommon among children. More serious abdominal pain, however, may lead parents to take their children to the emergency department.

A recent study found that constipation is the most common reason for abdominal pain among children going to one emergency room.

Appendicitis was diagnosed in only about 4 percent of children who went to the ER.

In addition, the researchers did not find any major differences in the treatment or outcomes of children based on their race.

"Call the pediatrician if your child has severe abdominal pain."

The study, led by Kerry Caperell, MD, of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, looked at the outcomes of children who went to the emergency room for abdominal pain.

The researchers investigated the medical records of 9,424 children, aged 1 to 18, who went to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh emergency department for abdominal pain during a two-year period.

More than half of these children, a total of 5,493, ended up receiving multiple diagnoses for their complaints.

The researchers found that 1.9 percent of the African American children and 5.1 percent of the white children who visited the ER were diagnosed with appendicitis. Overall, 4.3 percent of the children had appendicitis.

Appendicitis was less common among younger children, but constipation was commonly diagnosed for all ages.

Almost 20 percent of the children were diagnosed with constipation, and more than 25 percent of the children aged 5 to 12 had constipation.

Constipation, gastroenteritis and urinary tract infections were more common among the African American patients than the white patients.

"Diagnosing causes of abdominal pain in children can often be difficult, especially the younger they are," said Chris Galloway, MD, a dailyRx expert who specializes in emergency medicine.

"Fortunately common causes are still common and constipation is a frequent diagnosis we make in the ER, and can be quite distressing for your child," Dr. Galloway said. "Consult your pediatrician if your child has abdominal pain."

Older children were more likely to remain in the hospital and have an operation related to the reason they went to the ER.

The researchers did not find any differences in children's outcomes related to their race. This finding means that all the children who went to the ER received similar evaluation and treatment and had similar outcomes regardless of their ethnicity.

The study was published May 20 in the journal Pediatrics. The research did not receive external funding, and the authors declared no conflicts of interest.