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Functional Abdominal Pain—Child

(Centrally mediated abdominal pain syndrome, CAPS, Visceral hypersensitivity)

Definition

Functional abdominal pain is either:

  • Pain one or more times a week for two months
  • Continuous pain for two months

The pain often gets in the way of daily activities and attending school.

Causes

This problem is likely caused by many factors, such as:

  • Increased sensitivity to pressure from food and gas on the walls of the intestine
  • Problems with how the bowels work
  • Mental health problems, such as emotional stress
  • Infections

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Risk Factors

Some things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • A history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Stressful life events, such as being in the hospital or loss of a parent's job
  • Depression or anxiety in the child or parent
  • A parent with a history of gastrointestinal problems

Symptoms

Symptoms vary from child to child. Pain may come and go or be steady. It may appear suddenly or slowly get worse over time.

Problems may be:

  • Pain near the belly button or anywhere in the belly
  • A burning feeling under the breastbone that is not from eating
  • A feeling of fullness after a few bites of food
  • Pain after bowel movements

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to suspect the diagnosis.

Stool tests will be done to rule out other problems. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

Treatment

The pain will often go away with time. The goal of treatment is to find and manage triggers. The overall goal is to return a child to normal activity. Options are:

Therapy

Emotions and stress can trigger abdominal pain or make it worse. Therapy can help a child manage stress and better cope with pain.

Medicine

Medicine may be used to ease symptoms. Options are:

  • Acid reducers
  • Intestinal muscle relaxers
  • Bulk laxatives or medicine to stop diarrhea
  • Probiotics to increase healthy bacteria
  • Antidepressants

Prevention

There are no known methods to prevent this health problem.

RESOURCES:

American College of Gastroenterology
http://patients.gi.org

Healthy Children— American Academy of Pediatrics
https://www.healthychildren.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
https://www.cag-acg.org

Caring For Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca

REFERENCES:

Functional abdominal pain in children. American College of Gastroenterology website. Available at: http://patients.gi.org/topics/functional-abdominal-pain-in-children. Accessed August 30, 2021.

Functional abdominal pain in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/functional-abdominal-pain-in-children. Accessed August 30, 2021.

Functional abdominal pain syndrome. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders website. Available at: https://www.iffgd.org/lower-gi-disorders/functional-abdominal-pain-syndrome.html. Accessed August 30, 2021.

Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kuenn, MD  Last Updated: 8/30/2021