According to a new study, unexplained stomach aches in kids may be at higher risk of developing anxiety disorders and depression as adults. The researchers published the study in Pediatrics, and said that when kids missed school because of what is known as “functional abdominal pain,” or stomach aches without a known medical cause, they have the potential to miss peer relationships, fall behind in school work and increase overall stress levels. The researchers have suggested that kids who have these problems should not stop playing or going to school, or they might spend time by themselves worrying about what is wrong with them.
Dr. Jon LaPook, CBS News chief medical correspondent and professor of medicine with New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, New York City, has pointed out that the stomach aches that have no known causes are not just made up, or even an excuse to miss class. People should know that these stomach problems are not just in a person’s head. It is real pain and should be acknowledged.
When a person is diagnosed with functional abdominal pain, it simply means that doctors have eliminated other causes for the discomfort that are diagnosable, including celiac disease, appendicitis, infection, blockage or inflammatory bowel disease. However, the pain is still remarkably real and can cause anxiety for some people. According to Dr. Michael Gershon, chairman of anatomy and cell biology and professor at Columbia has said that the gut is a bit like a “second brain,” because of the hundreds of millions of nerve cells. This system is called the enteric nervous system, and it communicates directly with the brain. When a person is nervous, they experience a feeling of “butterflies” in their stomachs; this is the enteric nervous system communicating with the brain.
LaPook has said that it’s not in your head at all; it’s actually in the gut.
So, how does a parent first determine that a child is not having a medical emergency such as appendicitis? Dr. LaPook has said that any time a child has symptoms that they are willing to tell people other than their parents about, it should be looked into, and even a doctor visit may be in order.
Dr. LaPook is a gastroenterologist. When he can find no results from tests of patients experiencing abdominal pain, he begins to consider other conditions that include IBS. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a group of symptoms that happen simultaneously, most often abdominal discomfort or pain, including cramping, constipation, diarrhea or both. People that have been diagnosed with IBS have experienced abdominal pain at least three times over three months, and no other injuries or diseases are causing the pain.
There may be no individual pill to help make abdominal pain go away, but having a healthy relationship with a doctor can be beneficial because conversations such as what foods trigger a stomach ache, what circumstances trigger pain if there is something else going on in a child’s life, and other factors can help to develop a plan for treatment of the symptoms.
Ultimately, stomach aches in children are no joke, so the best way to eliminate the worry about other conditions is to take them to the doctor.