Children's Symptom Guide

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Leg Pain

Children who are active will often develop leg pain or have a noticeable limp after a sports injury. If your child is complaining with persistent leg pains or if she has a noticeable limp that is not associated with a known injury, you should seek out medical advice. Also, you need to have her evaluated if she refuses to bear weight on one of her legs or both. Here are some causes of leg pain:

Sports Injuries – Limping or pain can occur after a sports injury. These types of injuries include knee sprains and strains, ankle sprains and strains, or a muscle sprain. If the pain and limping continues for a few days, you should take her to the doctor.

Toddler's Fracture – This is a common reason why younger children limp. It involves a facture to one of the bones of the lower leg called the tibia, and this can occur after a simple fall. There is usually very little redness or swelling to alert you of this fracture but your child may refuse to walk or complain of pain. This type of fracture is difficult to diagnose without an X-Ray, and if you suspect your child has one, take her in to her doctor's office.

Legg-Perthes – This is a reason for leg pain and a limp for children ages three to ten years old. The cause of Legg-Perthes is unknown but it is a condition where the blood supply to the top of the thigh bone is interrupted, causing the bone to stop growing. Once diagnosed and the blood supply resumed, the leg can grow. These children are treated with crutches, casts, bracing and occasionally surgery. A child with Legg-Perthes may have to do special exercises and be in traction, too. With proper treatment, this condition is curable and your child will be able to walk normally.

Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis – This is a common hip disorder that occurs in overweight adolescents and it results in severer pain of the hips. Sometimes these children also have limited movement and knee pain, as well. Diagnoses is done by X-Ray of the hips. Many children with SCFE have a limp.

Leg Length Differences – Many children are born with a difference in the length of the bones in the legs. It may develop as she grows, too. For minor differences (those less than 2 cm), there is no treatment other than a shoe lift. For larger differences (3 cm or greater), the child may require surgery to lengthen the shorter leg or make the longer leg shorter. Sometimes, a prosthesis is necessary for the shorter leg.

Growing Pains – A common condition for children aged five to ten years is growing pains. These occur during times of rapid growth. Most kids will complain worse at night and the pain is not well localized to a specific area. It may hurt in different places on different nights. This condition usually doesn't cause a limp and should not limit her activities. Just offer up massage for her legs and give her some Tylenol or Motrin.

Serious Conditions – There are other more serious conditions that result in leg pain and limping. These include osteomyelitis (an infection of the bone that is accompanied with fever and pain), arthritis (a condition that causes swelling and redness over the joints), and tumors of the bone (growths that cause severe pain and irritability). It is wise that you consult a physician if you suspect any of these things.


Another common symptom in childhood is headaches. School age children and adolescents have these frequently. Most common causes of headaches are from viruses, like the rhinoviruses that causes colds. The more serious headaches are caused by brain tumors or meningitis. You should get your child medical attention if you suspect she has these ailments. Also, if your child's headache is accompanied by difficulty breathing, she is lethargic or confused, and she is vomiting, take her to the emergency room for evaluation. For children who suffer with chronic, recurrent headaches, get an assessment and treatment as soon as possible.


Most of the time, vomiting is due to a virus of the stomach. This is especially true if it is associated with diarrhea. Here are some common causes of vomiting:

Acute Gastroenteritis – This is a very common problem for young children and infants and it is caused by a stomach virus, like the Rotavirus. The symptoms of acute gastroenteritis include stomach ache, fever, diarrhea, and/or vomiting. These symptoms will persist for a couple of days, but the diarrhea could persist for up to a week. There is no current cure or medication that will treat gastroenteritis, only things to help ease off the symptoms.

Food Poisoning – You should be aware that almost any food can become contaminated with a bacteria, parasite, or virus. Foods can make your child sick if they are contaminated with toxins or pesticides, too. The most common signs of food poisoning include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain, vomiting, and fever. These usually begin shortly after the food that is contaminated is consumed. You should take your child to her doctor or the emergency room if you suspect food poisoning.  

Pyloric Stenosis – This is a condition that is the result of a thickening of the muscle that empties the stomach into the small intestines. This is a valve that becomes enlarged, causing the child to have projectile vomiting. Some babies are born with pyloric stenosis and vomit as early as the first week of life. The vomiting does not get better with time and there is little you can do to stop it. Most of the time, the doctor will try formula changes and prescribe Pedialyte for your child. Be cautious, however, because your baby could easily get dehydrated and ill. The doctor may want to do a sonogram if he suspects pyloric stenosis. The only treatment is a surgery called a pyloromyotomy, done to open the muscle by way of a small incision.

Appendicitis – Continued abdominal pain with associated nausea and vomiting is a sign of appendicitis. Take your child to a doctor, should you suspect this.

Intestinal Obstruction – This involves a blockage of the intestines and associated severe pain and vomiting. Your child may have dark green or yellow vomit, indicating a large amount of bile is present. She may also be passing gas or have diarrhea in addition to the vomiting. This is considered a medical emergency and you should take your child to the emergency room if you suspect this condition.

Hepatitis – This is a disease that is caused by a virus that inflames the liver. There are many kinds of this virus, but the most common types are Hepatitis A, B, and C. The symptoms of these include pain in the right side of the belly, nausea and vomiting, jaundiced skin, fever, and fatigue.

Other Common Causes – There are many other things that can lead to vomiting. These include migraine headaches, flu virus, strep throat, meningitis, brain tumors, or head injury. You should have your child checked out by a doctor if she is having vomiting and you suspect a serious condition.


Coughing is a common occurrence for young children. This symptom usually accompanies an infection from a cold virus, but it may indicate a more worrisome disorder. If your child is coughing and having difficulty breathing, you should consider taking her to a doctor. Usual treatments for bronchitis and colds include eliminating cigarette and other smoke exposure, keeping her away from common irritants, using an air humidifier, and use of a cough suppressant. Here are some reasons for cough:

Allergic Rhinitis or Allergies – Whether you call it hay fever or allergies, the cough that goes with allergic rhinitis is a persistent hacky cough. It is the result of postnasal drip. Accompanying symptoms include sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, cough, nasal congestion, and a runny nose. Most of the time, this occurs during the fall or spring.

Asthma – Children who have asthma will cough and wheeze a lot. They do this during play or after exercising. Many cough and wheeze after exposure to cold and dry air. Many children with asthma cough worse at night.

Bronchiolitis – This is a viral infection that causes wheezing, difficulty breathing, sneezing nasal drainage, productive coughing, and fever. The child may only have this for a few days and most of the time this is caused by a virus.

Bronchitis – This is a viral illness that begins with symptoms of a runny nose and cough. It will get worse over the course of three to four days when the child develops a nonproductive, dry, hacking cough. The cough may produce sputum eventually and the child often has a low grade fever. Some parents notice that the child has a decreased energy level. Most of the time, bronchitis is caused by a virus, but sometimes it is caused by bacteria. If you suspect your child has this condition, take her to see a doctor.

Croup – This is a seasonal condition caused by a virus. The cough of croup sounds like a barking seal and is worse during the night. Many young children also have difficulty breathing with croup.

Cystic Fibrosis – Children who have CF usually have a chronic cough. These kids have frequent serious infections, poor growth, and greasy, ill-smelling stools. If you suspect that your child has cystic fibrosis, you should consult a physician.

Foreign Body Aspiration – The cough associated with the ingestion of a foreign body is accompanied by choking. These kids may have trouble breathing. Most of the time, a doctor will X-Ray the child to locate the object that is lodged in the breathing tube (bronchus). Call your local emergency room if your child can't breathe and attempt the Heimlich Maneuver.

Pneumonia – This is a serious medical condition that causes a productive cough and difficulty breathing. You should have your child evaluated if you suspect pneumonia.

Gastric Reflux – Some children who have gastroesophageal reflux, spit up stomach contents and this causes wheezing and coughing. Your child should be seen by a physician if you suspect this.

Sinusitis – The symptoms of sinusitis include a yellow or green drainage from the nose, runny nose, headaches, face pain, bad breath, fever, and cough, which may be productive. You need to take your child to her doctor if you suspect sinusitis.

Other Infections – There are some other conditions that cause cough. These include tuberculosis (a serious bacteria infection that causes fever, night sweating, weight loss and cough), pertussis (whooping cough), and Mycoplasma (walking pneumonia). These illnesses need to be treated by your child's doctor.
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