Recurrent Abdominal Pain (Ongoing Tummy Pain)

If you are worried about tummy pain that has come on suddenly or is severe, please visit our page on tummy pain.

Recurrent abdominal pain is a tummy pain that lasts a long time (at least three months) or keeps coming back. Usually recurrent abdominal pain is due to an extra sensitivity of the digestive system and there is no underlying physical reason for this to happen. In this situation it is referred to as ‘functional abdominal pain’.

  • Recurrent abdominal pain is one of the most common symptoms in childhood worldwide
  • About 10 to 20% of school aged children report episodes of abdominal pain 
  • Most children will have no physical blockage, infection or inflammation causing the pain
  • It can have a major impact on your child’s day and can become a common reason for missing school 
  • This time can be worrying for parents as they fear there must be something seriously wrong with their child
  • Recurrent pain at other sites such as headaches or limb pain is common too and will be looked into at the same time as the abdominal pain
Common symptom combinations involving abdominal pain include; 

Pain that happens from time to time or is continuous and does not appear to come from a particular physical cause. Often this pain is felt in the central tummy area.

Functional abdominal pain as well as some loss of daily activities. Other symptoms include headaches, limb pain or difficulty sleeping. 

Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen (above belly button) that recurs or persists, heartburn and belching.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome causes bloating with loose stools and central abdominal pain. Symptoms include change in frequency and appearance of poo, pain or discomfort lessens after pooing.

Times of intense acute pain around belly button lasting one or more hours where symptoms may worsen or appear suddenly. This can interfere with some activities. This can also cause reduced appetite, feeling sick, vomiting, headache, light hurting the eyes, looking pale.

Issues that can be linked to recurrent abdominal pain include;

  • Health worries in the first year of child’s life
  • Illness in siblings
  • Gastrointestinal problems in parents
  • In rare cases, Recurrent Abdominal Pain may be a symptom of child abuse
Features that might suggest a physical cause of recurrent abdominal pain 
  • Persistent right upper or right lower abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Urinary symptoms
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Delayed puberty
  • Chronic severe diarrhoea
  • Unexplained fever
  • Persistent vomiting
  • First degree relative with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and indeterminate colitis

If any of these are present you should seek medical advice, and for more information see our page on tummy pain.

Go to the nearest Hospital Emergency (A&E) Department or phone 999 if your child has;
  • Green or blood stained vomit
  • Blood in their wee, vomit or poo
Caring for your child at home
  • You may wish to think about possible triggers in your child’s diet, such as the artificial sweetener sorbitol, fizzy drinks 
  • and caffeine.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a balanced diet with plenty of veg and fibre. Moderate the amount of fruit and fruit juice, the high fructose content can cause abdominal pain if intake is too much.
  • Keep active, exercise helps your food move through your bowels.
  • Distraction can be useful, for example, a trip to the park, having a bath or something else your child enjoys.
  • Apart from occasional pain relief medications are not helpful.

Page last updated on: 21st March 2024