ZocdocAnswersWhat causes the stomach to harden?

Question

What causes the stomach to harden?

My son, 7, has been lethargic lately. I know this sounds strange, but I've also noticed that his stomach feels like it's hardening, like the whole thing is swollen and stiff. Should we go to a doctor? What could this be?

Answer

These symptoms are concerning. Lethargy in children is a serious symptom because it often represents a significant problem that the child is not otherwise capable of articulating to you. It sounds very much like you should see your doctor or go to the emergency room as soon as possible. There are several things that could cause abdominal swelling or stiffness like you describe. In particular, life threatening things would include appendicitis, twisting of the intestine, or some other intra-abdominal problem that may require surgery. The likelihood that something serious is going on is raised if there is abdominal pain or fever, and of course the lethargy is concerning. Stiffness of the abdomen can be a sign of peritonitis, which is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach, usually produced by leakage of bacteria into the abdomen from a ruptured appendix or similar process. I recommended going to the emergency room or your doctor's urgent care office. There, the doctor will be able to examine your son's abdomen and determine if the stiffness you are noticing is concerning. They may also choose to obtain some blood work and imaging studies, which can help to decide if further treatment is needed.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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