Functional abdominal pain is defined as either:
It commonly interferes with activities and school attendance.
Food and gas put pressure on the walls of the intestine causing the intestines to stretch. Normally this pressure is not noticeable, but people with functional abdominal pain appear to be hypersensitive to this stretch and pressure. This hypersensitivity may be caused by a change in the nerves that transmit information from the intestines to the brain.
Functional pain may also be associated with abnormalities in bowel motility.
Functional pain may also be connected to crossed pathways in the brain. Emotional events create new nerve pathways. Sometimes these new pathways interact with areas of the brain that sense pain with the intestines. This could make a connection between emotional stress and functional abdominal pain.
Parasitic infections may also cause functional abdominal pain in a small percentage of children.
Factors associated with functional abdominal pain may be psychological, physical, or a combination of both.
Psychological factors include:
Physical factors may include:
Symptoms vary widely among children. Pain can be intermittent or steady, and may be chronic. It may appear suddenly or slowly increase over time.
Other symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may suspect functional abdominal pain based on the type and pattern of pain. It will be helpful for the doctor to know how it has affected your child’s quality of life with missed activities and school.
Your child's stool will be tested for blood.
If there are other symptoms, the doctor may:
In most cases, abdominal pain goes away with time and understanding. The goal of treatment is to identify and address triggers for abdominal pain, and return your child to normal activity.
Part of the treatment plan may include keeping a journal of:
Your child’s doctor may also recommend:
Emotions and stress can trigger abdominal pain or make it worse. Therapy will help you and your child with stress management. This is done with different relaxation techniques.
Behavioral therapy centers on changing behaviors to help control your child’s symptoms. This can happen by avoiding triggers or coping with the pain with distraction techniques.
Medications may be used to treat physical symptoms that occur with the abdominal pain. In most cases, medications are only prescribed for a short time until pain can be resolved by therapy. These may include:
American College of Gastroenterology
Healthy Children— American Academy of Pediatrics
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Caring For Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
Chiou E, Nurko S. Functional abdominal pain and irritable bowel syndrome in children and adolescents. Therapy. 2011;8(3):315-331.
Functional abdominal pain in children. American College of Gastroenterology website. Available at: http://patients.gi.org/topics/functional-abdominal-pain-in-children. Updated December 2012. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Functional abdominal pain in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115824/Functional-abdominal-pain-in-children. Updated September 15, 2016. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Functional abdominal pain syndrome. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders website. Available at: https://www.iffgd.org/lower-gi-disorders/functional-abdominal-pain-syndrome.html. Updated August 22, 2017. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Gijsbers CF, Schweizer, Büller HA. Protozoa as a cause of recurrent abdominal pain in children. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2013;57(5):603-606.
Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.