Published on May 09, 2022

Little girl holding her stomach.

Visit your child’s doctor if gastrointestinal symptoms do not go away

Most children experience short-lived gastrointestinal issues from time to time. Common symptoms such as short-term vomiting, diarrhea or stomach upset are typically associated with consumption of certain foods, a virus, exposure to a contagion, overstimulation or worry.

When gastrointestinal symptoms are unusual, occur suddenly or are severe, it’s important to visit an urgent care location or emergency department right away. If your child has mild to moderate symptoms that do not resolve within 48 hours, or regularly experiences non-urgent symptoms, schedule a visit with your pediatrician or primary care provider.

A visit is recommended for any child with:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal discomfort that causes a change in activities
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood or mucus in the stool
  • Constipation
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain with urination
  • Poor intake of food, liquid or medication
  • Vomiting

At the visit, your provider will examine your child, listen to your concerns, answer your questions, provide diagnostic information and instructions for your child’s care, and recommend tests, follow-up care or a referral if needed.

Along with recent symptoms and symptom patterns, your provider will consider your child’s medical history as well as your family’s medical history. It will be important to discuss your child’s diet and nutrition, as well as environmental factors that can cause stress or anxiety.

Gastrointestinal symptoms also can be associated with strep throat, pneumonia, menstruation, ovarian or testicular concerns. Your provider will ask whether your child has additional symptoms such as fever, skin rashes or headaches. They will want to know about your child’s eating, drinking and sleeping habits, as well as any school, social, athletic, play or family considerations occurring in your child’s life.

In some cases, your provider may request additional information about your child. You may be asked to record your child’s symptoms, food and liquid intake, and activities for a period of time. The goal is to determine what is causing the symptoms and how they can be treated.

"Normal gastrointestinal symptoms can often be treated with changes in your child’s dietary, hydration and bowel habits," said Lindsey McGowan, MD, is a pediatrician with ProHealth Medical Group. "You and your provider can also talk about ways to reduce triggers that can cause stress and anxiety and may lead to abdominal issues."

It is important to follow all medical instructions, as it may take time for symptoms to subside. Schedule a future visit if it is recommended. If a behavioral health, digestive health or gynecological visit is advised, your provider can make a referral for you.

"Your pediatrician or primary care provider is the best place to start when your child experiences mild to moderate digestive health issues or recurring concerns," Dr. McGowan said. "Your provider’s team has the same goal as you do – to alleviate any health issues and help your child return to regular activities."

Don’t hesitate to schedule a visit for any concerns about your child’s health. Time can make all the difference in alleviating symptoms, getting to the root cause of an issue, and making sure that follow-up care is provided, when needed.