Abdominal pain is one of the most frequent causes for emergency department visits for children. Many conditions are self-limiting and minor, such as gastroenteritis or the "stomach flu" and other viral illnesses. There are some digestive conditions that are more serious and even life-threatening.


Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix, the tube that extends from the large intestine. Left untreated, an inflamed appendix will eventually burst or perforate, spilling infectious materials into the abdomen that can lead to a serious infection called peritonitis. Bowel obstruction by a deposit or foreign body is common in appendicitis. Treatment with antibiotics and surgery, a procedure called appendectomy to remove the appendix, is the most common emergency surgical procedure performed in children.

Bowel obstructions

When the small or large intestine is partly or completely blocked, foods, fluid and gas are not able to move through the intestines as they normally would, causing pain. Causes:

  • Tumors
  • Scar tissue and twisting and narrowing of the intestines can cause a bowel obstruction
  • Hernias
  • Crohn's disease
  • Intussusception, a condition affecting children under 3 years of age where one part of the intestines folds into an adjacent part causing blockage

Bowel obstructions are treated by antibiotics and by surgery.


Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that causes flu-like symptoms with fever, muscle aches, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and jaundice. Hepatitis can be caused by viral or bacterial infection, liver injury from poison, autoimmune disorder, interruption of the blood supply to the liver or trauma. The viruses commonly associated with hepatitis include:

  • Hepatitis A (spread through contaminated food and water)
  • Hepatitis B (spread through body fluids)
  • Hepatitis C (spread through direct contact with an infected person's blood)
  • Chickenpox
  • Cytomegalovirus, CMV
  • Epstein Barr virus that causes mononucleosis


Pancreatitis is inflammation in the large gland behind the stomach that supplies the digestive enzymes that help break down food in the small intestine, insulin and glucagon—two hormones that control blood sugar. Pancreatitis has similar symptoms to hepatitis. Acute pancreatitis develops suddenly after exposure to a viral infection, traumatic injury such as blunt force to the upper abdomen in an injury like bicycle handle bar injury, cystic fibrosis or excess fat in the blood.

If your child is experiencing illness or injury contact your Main Line Health pediatrician. A dedicated pediatric emergency room and inpatient unit is located at Bryn Mawr Hospital. Emergency rooms are also located at Lankenau Medical Center, Paoli Hospital and Riddle Hospital.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.