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How is functional abdominal pain diagnosed?

The doctor will gather information to help make the diagnosis. This will include:

  • a detailed history regarding the location of abdominal pain,
  • the frequency and the duration of a typical episode, and
  • association of pain with physical activity or emotional stress.

Many children with functional abdominal pain have a family history of gastrointestinal problems. You should expect the physician to ask about a family history of abdominal pain or other medical conditions. The doctor may ask about your child’s activities, social life, and school functioning.

The physical examination is also an important tool in evaluating abdominal pain. The child’s weight, height, and percentile on the growth chart help a physician to determine if the child's growth and development are within the normal range. Children who are underweight or short or have fallen below their usual growth curve are more likely to have another disorder as a cause for their abdominal pain. The physician will examine the child's abdomen with light and deep pressure. A visual examination of the anus and a digital (finger) exam of the rectum are important to determine if there is constipation or blood in the stool.

The diagnosis of functional abdominal pain is often based on the report of symptoms and a normal physical examination. Testing should be limited if the history is typical for functional abdominal pain and the physical examination is normal. Laboratory tests are sometimes recommended if the doctor suspects another condition as the cause of abdominal pain.

The initial screening tests may include some blood and stool tests. In specific cases further testing may be required. This further testing may include x-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan of the abdomen, or endoscopies.

Normal laboratory workup in a patient with symptoms consistent with the diagnosis of functional abdominal pain should be considered as a reaffirmation of the diagnosis of functional abdominal pain. Normal test results do not indicate the need to pursue further testing as those will likely continue to be normal. Parents are encouraged to discuss the indication of testing and results with the physician.

How can parents prepare for the doctor appointment?

A pain diary is useful in helping identify patterns and other significant factors of child’s pain. If possible, obtain a pain diary before the first consultation and bring it to the appointment. This could help your doctor’s assessment.

At the end of each day, talk to your child or family members and record information about the day’s pain, including:

  • Severity of pain (1 to 10 with 10 being the worst pain)
  • Time of pain
  • Location of pain (around belly button, above or below belly button, left or right)
  • Duration of pain (minutes, hours, all day)
  • Whether the pain restricted the daily activities
  • Possible triggers (food, activities, stressors, other)
  • Remedies tried, and if the pain improved with that

A pain diary should not result in too much focusing on the pain or other body functions. If documentation of these events increases your child’s worries, obtain as much information as possible without excessive involvement of the child. Although this information could be useful, documenting every event should not be the focus of the child’s life or attention.

Research Awards
2020 Award Recipients
Kyle Staller, MD
Christopher V. Almario, MD
Maria Raffaella Barbaro, PhD
2019 Award Recipients
Arpana Gupta, PhD
David Levinthal, MD, PhD
Ilan Koppen, MD, PhD
2018 Award Recipients
Amaranath Karunanayake, PhD
Katja Kovacic, MD
Cristina Martinez, PhD
Ans Pauwels, PhD
2013 Award Recipients
Enrico Corazziari, MD
Jan Tack, MD, PhD
Report from Gary Mawe, PhD: The Roles of Intestinal Nerves and Serotonin in Gut Function and Dysfunction
Ashley Blackshaw, PhD
Carlo Di Lorenzo, MD
Niranga Manjuri Devanarayana, MD
Report from Lukas Van Oudenhove, PhD: Solving the Biopsychosocial Puzzle in Functional Dyspepsia
Muriel Larauche, PhD
2011 Award Recipients
Report from Ronnie Fass, MD: Sleep and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Million Mulugeta, PhD
Adrian Miranda, MD
Samuel Nurko, MD
Sudarshan Jadcherla, MD
Shaman Rajindrajith, MD
2009 Award Recipients
Satish Rao, MD
Emeran Mayer, MD
Javier Santos, MD
Report from Martin Storr, MD, PhD: Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: New Insights in Enteric Regulation
Report From Miguel Saps, MD: Functional Abdominal Pain in Children and Adolescents
2007 Award Recipients
Report from Bruce D. Naliboff, PhD: Symptom Based Psychology for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
Report from Magnus Simrén, MD, PhD: Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Searching for Underlying Causes
Report from Brennan M. R. Spiegel, MD, MSHS: Diagnostic Testing in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Theory vs. Reality
Report from Sylvie Bradesi, PhD: Role of the Central Immune System in Functional Disorders
Paul E. Hyman, MD
Report from Miranda A. L. van Tilburg, PhD: Home Based Guided Imagery to Treat Pediatric Functional Abdominal Pain
Report from Fernando Azpiroz, MD, PhD: Understanding Intestinal Gas
2005 Award Recipients
Report from Yvette Tache, PhD: Stress and Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Unraveling the Code
Report from Shaheen Hamdy, MRCP, PhD: Adult Neurogenic Dysphagia -- Disorders and Conditions that Disrupt Swallowing
Report from Michael A. Pezzone, MD, PhD: Chronic Pelvic Pain and the Overlap of Pelvic Pain Disorders
Report from Bridget R. Southwell, PhD: Research into Treatment-Resistant Constipation in Children
Report from Rachel Rosen, MD, MPH: Symptoms Arising from Non-Acid Reflux in Children
2003 Award Recipients
Report from William E. Whitehead, PhD: Summary of Clinical Research Activities
Jyoti N. Sengupta, PhD
Report from Caroline Elder Danda, PhD: Biopsychosocial Perspectives on Assessment and Treatment
Report from Terry Buchmiller-Crair, MD: Using the Fetal Gastrointestinal Tract to Overcome Neonatal Disease
Report from Dan L. Dumitrascu, MD, PhD: The Psychosocial Adjustment to Illness in Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Report from Klaus Bielefeldt, MD, PhD: Understanding Pain and Discomfort in Functional GI Disorders
Research Grants
IFFGD Competitive Grants
2014 IFFGD Idiopathic Gastroparesis Research Grants
Leo Cheng, PhD
Braden Kuo, MD, MSc
Richard McCallum, MD
2008 IFFGD Competitive Research Grants
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