Digest This – Lots of Tummy Aches?
Does your child often complain of tummy aches? Your child is not alone. 10-15% of children will complain of recurrent abdominal pain (aka “tummy aches”). Most healthy children who have tummy aches for more than two months are likely to have functional abdominal pain (FAP). Functional means no blockage, infection or inflammation to explain the pain. The pain comes from increased sensitivity of the nerves connecting our digestive organs (such as our gut) to our brain. Even if nothing is wrong, the nerves may send signals during normal intestinal functions. This extra sensitivity could be triggered by a variety of things such as previous infections or stress. The pain experienced is very real, causing your child to stop usual activities like going to school.
How is FAP diagnosed? Your doctor will take a detailed history about the pain and its course. In children with FAP, growth and physical examinations are normal. Tests like bloodwork, urine or stool studies may be needed to screen for other causes of recurrent abdominal pain. Extensive lab testing or endoscopy are usually unnecessary, unless another condition is suggested by certain features in the patient history, physical examination or laboratory results.
Fortunately, FAP can be managed. The goal of treatment is to help your child get back to doing usual activities. If school absence is an issue, then developing a plan for returning to school is vital to getting better. Learning strategies to cope with the pain is important like breathing exercises or avoiding certain pain triggers. Your child will benefit from your help to avoid focusing on the pain. Staying optimistic and positive about getting better will help. Your doctor may be able to suggest other therapies to help your child.