What are the symptoms?
Usually, this pain is located around the belly button. However, this is not always the case. Pain may be located in other areas or change locations from time to time. The pain may start suddenly, or may gradually increase in severity. The pain may be constant, or may increase and decrease in severity. Children with functional abdominal pain generally do not have fever, involuntary weight loss, poor appetite, blood in vomitus or stool, pain or blood with urination. All the above are signs that a doctor will ask about to rule out another condition associated with the abdominal pain.
What are the other conditions that can cause chronic abdominal pain?
Other disorders that are related to abnormalities in an organ system, such as the gastrointestinal, urinary, or gynecologic system can also cause chronic abdominal pain. These disorders include conditions caused by an identifiable structural, infectious, or biochemical abnormality within the body. Therefore, unlike functional abdominal pain, in these conditions the laboratory or imaging testing may show some abnormalities. Thus, if the doctor suspects another condition you should expect a more extensive workup.
Is functional abdominal pain a serious condition?
It is reassuring to parents and children to know that functional abdominal pain is not a life threatening condition. However, functional abdominal pain may have adverse effects on the child’s physical and emotional state. The pain may interfere with school attendance, participation in sports, and other extra-curricular activities. Occasionally, it may affect appetite and sleep. The inability to carry out daily activities may affect the child’s mood and emotions.
Conversely, in some cases, abdominal pain may be triggered by anxiety or stress. This may be seen during periods of change or stress in a family, such as the birth of a new sibling or illness of a family member. These are periods when the parent(s) has limited time to spend with their child. Starting school may trigger abdominal pain. Other times stressors may not be part of the problem. Or they may be present but not easily identifiable. Stressors may even include positive experiences such as vacations, birthdays, or trips. Other times, the high frequency or intensity of the pain itself may stress the child and parents.
Although it is natural as a parent to be worried about your child’s health you should be aware that your comments and reaction may affect the child’s behavior and pain. Parents expressing worrisome comments about the causes of the pain or doubting the benign nature of the pain may make the child more anxious. That may increase the pain. Parents should show understanding and support without encouraging behavior that emphasizes sickness. Although it may be difficult for the parents to do, studies have shown that distracting the child from his or her pain could be helpful.