Abdominal Pains in Infants

Colic usually occurs in infants between the ages of ten days and three months of age. While no one knows exactly what causes it, colic seems to produce rapid and severe contractions of the intestine that probably are responsible for the baby’s pain. The discomfort often is more severe in the late afternoon and early evening, and may be accompanied by inconsolable crying, pulling up of the legs, frequent passage of gas, and general irritability. You can try a variety of approaches to colic, which might include rocking your baby, walking with her in a baby carrier, swaddling her in a blanket, or giving her a pacifier.

Intussusception is a rare condition that may cause abdominal pain in young infants (usually between eight months and fourteen months of age). This problem occurs when one part of the intestine slides inside another portion of the intestine, creating a blockage that causes severe pain. The child will intermittently and abruptly cry and pull her legs toward her stomach. This will be followed by periods without stomach pain and often without any distress. These children also may vomit and have dark, mucousy, bloody stools that often look like blackberry jelly.

It is important to recognize this cause of abdominal pain and to talk to your pediatrician immediately. She will want to see your child and perhaps order an X-ray called an air or barium enema. Sometimes doing this test not only enables the diagnosis but also unblocks the intestine. If the enema does not unblock the intestine, an emergency operation may be necessary to correct the problem.

Viral or bacterial infections of the intestine (gastroenteritis) are usually associated with diarrhea and/or vomiting. On and off abdominal pain is often also present. Most cases are viral, require no treatment, and will resolve on their own over a week or so; the pain itself generally lasts one or two days and then disappears. One exception is an infection caused by the Giardia lamblia parasite. This infestation may produce periodic recurrent pain not localized to any one part of the abdomen. The pain may persist for a week or more and can lead to a marked loss of appetite and weight. Treatment with appropriate medication can cure this infestation and the abdominal pain that accompanies it.

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