Parents will know that children can be fussy-eaters and complain about stomach pain when they're grumpy or not say a word when they truly feel ill. While some stomach pain can come and go quickly, others can linger and be a sign of something more serious when followed by vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation.

The gastrointestinal tract is a complicated system of nerves and muscles that push the food we eat through the digestive process. For some, these nerves are more sensitive than others, and stomach pain can be a common issue. In some cases, stomach-ache is caused by a particular food that may not be sitting well with the child, or due to stress. In other cases, it is more serious and may be the indication of appendicitis, intestinal obstruction, irritable bowel syndrome or the beginning of a stomach bug (gastroenteritis) caused by a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection.

While vomiting and diarrhoea may just be due to a particular food, or stress when paired with abdominal pain, whether or not it is serious or not is a thin line. Knowing the difference as a parent can be very tricky, but the following symptoms should be a guideline when emergency medical attention is needed. You should make an emergency appointment with Dr Coetzee if:

  • Your child is younger than 6 months with a fever over 38°C.
  • Your child is younger than 1-year-old with persistent diarrhoea, vomiting or constipation.
  • Your child is dehydrated (dehydration may include decreased urination, dry lips and low energy).
  • Your child has blood in his or her vomit or stool.
  • Your child is complaining of sudden severe stomach pain in the lower right side of the abdomen.
  • Your child has had diarrhoea or constipation or been vomiting for more than two days.
  • Your child has a fever and will not eat or drink.
  • You suspect your child has swallowed something poisonous.

If an emergency consultation is needed, Dr Coetzee will begin the consultation by asking questions about your child's condition. Knowing how your child's condition has progressed over time will help Dr Coetzee make the best decisions for treatment. The first step is to find the root cause of the symptoms. Sometimes it's a food allergy, or stomach bug, other times abdominal pain is due to an underlying condition or emergency issue like appendicitis. The cause may vary and thus so will the treatment.

Replacing lost fluids and lowering the fever is the priority for your paediatrician in addition to treating the root cause. In some cases, treatment can be done at home, while other more severe cases may require hospitalisation for a drip to be placed for hydration or for surgical intervention. As a paediatrician, Dr Coetzee has the expertise to decipher the root cause of a range of gastrointestinal conditions and is experienced in the treatment of these emergency cases. He also has a particular interest in food allergies and the identification of these conditions as the cause for stomach-aches, diarrhoea, vomiting, and constipation.