Functional Abdominal Pain
What is functional abdominal pain?
Most children who complain of stomach pain for over three months have functional abdominal
pain. The term functional refers to a lack of blockage/obstruction, intestinal inflammation/infection,
or other detectable abnormality which is causing the pain. The gastrointestinal tract
is full of nerves and muscles, and increased sensitivity to the digestive organs and
gastrointestinal movement patterns can lead to pain in your child, leading to loss
of usual school or play. In functional abdominal pain, normal growth and health continue.
Functional abdominal pain is one of the most common complaints in children. Up to
15% of children report episodes of recurrent pain. Children who may suffer from anxiety
or depression may show an exaggerated pain response.
How is functional abdominal pain diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will obtain a thorough history and perform a physical examination.
History is very important in the diagnosis of functional abdominal pain. Growth charts
will be assessed. Your healthcare provider may decide to order some basic screening
labs for other disease but testing should be limited.
How is functional abdominal pain treated?
Specific causes for abdominal pain will be addressed by the healthcare provider. If
functional abdominal pain is diagnosed, the child should be reassured. Identifying
pain triggers often helps reduce pain. Being positive about getting better can send
a good signal to the child.
It is important to observe the child's behavior rather than asking about abdominal
pain in order to prevent the pain from becoming a reason for missing activities that
the child should participate in such as school or social activities.
University of Rochester Medical Center, Department of Pediatrics, Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Division