Carleene Grant-Davis, Child & Baby health
This has got to be the most frustrating symptom for parents. And for paediatricians too!
Abdominal pain in children is the most common recurring pain symptom that physicians see. Every child complains of abdominal pain at least once in their lifetime. However, the experience of recurrent episodes of abdominal pain over a period of several months is a common problem among school-age children. Are they really experiencing pain?
Recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) affects approximately 10 to 15 per cent of all school-age children. However, fewer than 10 per cent of children with RAP are ever found to have an organic cause for their pain. Some of the common organic causes are:
In more than 90 per cent of children with recurrent abdominal pain, no distinct organic cause is found and hence the term functional abdominal pain has been applied to these cases. In simple terms, the pain is thought to be as a result of an abnormal increase in the gut's motility and contractions or a heightened sensitivity to the normal gut motility and contractions. Hence, although the pain is real, there is nothing dangerous causing it.
The pain usually occurs intermittently over a period of several months. It is frequently described as vague, around the belly button or poorly localised. The pain typically does not awaken the child from sleep, is not associated with any other symptoms, and although it may disrupt their routine temporarily, it does not stop them from carrying out their daily activities. The pain usually increases during periods of stress.
What can you do?
Dr Carleene Grant-Davis is a consultant paediatrician and head, Dept of Paediatrics, Cornwall Regional Hospital; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.