Childhood Functional Abdominal Pain

Functional abdominal pain refers to recurring or persistent stomach discomfort in the absence of an identifiable physical explanation

Pain in the stomach experienced by children

“Many parents have likely heard their children say phrases like “I have a pain in my stomach” or “My stomach hurts.” This is a common occurrence, as stomach pain is a frequent issue for children and adolescents, with up to 38% experiencing it on a weekly basis. It is also a prevalent clinical symptom for pediatricians and a common reason for children to visit the emergency room. While most children’s stomach pain goes away on its own, for some, it can become disruptive to their daily lives and cause emotional stress. In these cases, seeking medical advice is necessary. Functional abdominal pain (FAP) may be the cause of the stomach pain in some instances.”

What is functional abdominal pain?

Functional abdominal pain is characterized by stomach pain that occurs episodically or continuously, without any discernible organic cause. This means that the pain is not caused by any physical or physiological change to an organ or tissue in the body. The pain is typically located around the belly button, but the location and pattern of the pain may not always be predictable. It can occur suddenly or gradually increase in intensity, and it may be constant or fluctuate in severity. Despite experiencing pain, children with functional abdominal pain typically appear healthy and grow normally.

Functional abdominal pain is most commonly experienced by children between the ages of 4 and 18, with two peaks occurring between 5-7 years and 8-12 years. It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of school-aged children experience functional pain disorders, with girls being more commonly affected.

What causes the pain and discomfort in the abdomen?

The exact reason behind functional abdominal pain is still unknown, but it appears to be influenced by a combination of genetic, physiological, and psychological factors. One possible explanation could be a disruption in the way the gut moves. Additionally, there is a strong connection between our brain and gut, which constantly communicate via neurons, chemicals, and hormones. An alteration in this communication could lead to increased sensitivity to stimuli that would not normally cause pain. In some cases, children who have previously experienced stress or anxiety may exhibit an exaggerated pain response. Although functional abdominal pain is not a serious condition, it can be difficult to diagnose due to its complex nature. Taking a comprehensive medical history is crucial.

Why is it important to address stomach pain in children?

Stomach pain can significantly affect a child’s life by causing sickness, worry, sadness, and fatigue. It is the second most common reason for school absenteeism and can interfere with sleep, sports participation, social activities, and family life. Therefore, addressing stomach pain in children is important not only for the child’s well-being but also for their family and society as a whole. While there is no standardized treatment for functional abdominal pain in children, dietary or psychosocial interventions, medical treatments, and non-pharmaceutical approaches such as probiotics are currently available. Probiotics have gained increasing interest in recent years, both in terms of their clinical effectiveness and underlying mechanisms. If your child’s pain persists, it is recommended that you consult with a doctor to determine the appropriate treatment to reduce the pain and improve their quality of life.

What actions can you take to offer assistance?”

To provide support and understanding, reassure your child that functional abdominal pain is not a severe illness. It’s important to encourage your child to return to their normal routine as soon as possible, including attending school regularly, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, and participating in sports and other activities. Excessive worry and anxiety can negatively impact treatment outcomes for children with stomach pain, so it’s crucial to express concern while remaining optimistic and supportive.

“Queries to ask about stomach pain”

The following inquiries may aid in clarifying details about the abdominal pain and potential triggers, such as certain foods or stressors. They may also be useful when discussing your child’s condition and treatment with a medical professional:

  • Food: What did you eat today?
  • Sleep: Did you sleep well? Did you experience any nightmares?
  • School/daycare: How was school/daycare today?
  • Leisure time: What activities did you engage in during your free time today?
  • Sports: Did you participate in any sports or physical activities today?
  • Any notable events or occurrences today?
  • Toilet habits: Were they normal or abnormal today?
  • Stool form: For example, hard lumps, sausage-like, soft, fluffy, or watery?

Sources: