Functional abdominal pain is a very common problem in children and about one to three cases in children are seen by a gastroenterologist by the time they reach 15 yrs old. It is important to note that the pain is not life-threatening, however, will cause physical and psychological effects. For parents, Abdominal pain in their children is very frustrating and they feel helpless because it is hard to find the exact cause.
- Functional abdominal pain can be caused by:
- An upset stomach
- Food allergies
- Lactose intolerance
- Infection of the stomach with Helicobacter pylori
- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (Inflammatory bowel disease
- Inflamed pancreas
- Acid flux
- Lead poisoning
- Celiac diseases
- Period in girls who have started menstruating
Generalized pain occurs in half of the abdomen or more while localize pain occurs in a specific area of the abdomen. Older children are able to pinpoint the exact area of pain and describe the severity while infants often react differently to pain.They draw their legs upwards to their belly, become fussy and eat poorly. Most children will point to the umbilicus (belly) as the location of the abdominal pain. The pain can be sudden or slowly increase in severity and can be constant or increase and decrease in severity. Also, abdominal pain can be one time or occur repeatedly over several months (recurrent abdominal pain)
Red flags of functional abdominal pain.
- Early satiety abdominal pain with moving bowel changes
- Unusual rashes
- Joint pains
The diagnosis of functional abdominal pain is based on normal physical examination and report of symptoms.Additionally, it is quite possible for the physician to carry out some tests to detect any signs of serious diseases. The tests may include blood and stool tests.
If the physician obtains abnormal results, further testing may be done which include abdomen ultrasound, endoscopy, radiology test, upper GI series and CT of the abdomen.
The major aim of managing abdominal pain is providing a satisfactory quality of life through medicine, support, education and better-coping skills. A child needs to be reassured of a good outcome. It is also important to address parent’s fears and identify psychological stressors.
Upon confirmation of the cause of the functional abdominal pain, the physician discusses specific management of the condition. In the event that no specific cause has been established and functional pain is highly suspected, the parent and child are reassured that the abdominal pain is accepted as a real disorder and not something imaginary. Fortunately, the diagnosis of functional pain has a good overall outcome.