Children with chronic stomach pain and no clear cause are also more likely to have an anxiety disorder a new study found, prompting many to wonder if milk of magnesia is about to be replaced with anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication for kids.
The new study, lead by Lynn Walker from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee, followed 332 children between the age of eight and 17, who visited doctors for unexplained stomach pain. They also studied 147 children from area schools that did not have any stomach pain.
Stomach pain without a clear medical cause, like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel syndrome, it’s referred to as functional abdominal pain. Former research found that eight to 25 percent of kids have chronic stomach pain, according to Raw Story.
Researchers discovered that by the age of 20 over half of the participants had symptoms of anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. They found that four in 10 of those with a history of unexplained stomach pain still had a gastrointestinal problem in adulthood.
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The anxiety often began in early childhood, about the same time the stomach problems arose.
Social anxiety was the most often cited.
“What was striking was the extent to which anxiety disorders were still present at follow-up,” Walker told Reuters Health.
Using phone interviews, researchers found 51 percent of their stomach pain group had an anxiety disorder and 30 percent met the diagnostic criteria for anxiety disorder.
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On the other hand only 12 percent of the non-stomach pain group currently had an anxiety disorder.
“It’s very prevalent, and it’s one of the most common reasons that children and adolescents end up in their pediatrician’s office. It’s one of the most common reasons kids are missing school,” Dr. Eva Szigethy, head of the Medical Coping Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, told Reuters.
Szigethy was not involved in this latest research, but said that anxiety and functional stomach pain often go hand in hand. Anxiety often predates the stomach pain as well.
“People who are anxious tend to be very vigilant to threat, scanning their environment or their body for something that might be wrong,” Szigethy said.
She said those children may be more sensitive to pain, may worry more about the pain they feel, and, as they stay home from school and try to feel better, they only get more anxious over their condition.
An important factor that was not mentioned in the study, Szigethy said, was how those participants were treated over the years for their stomach pain and/or anxiety - which would provide the next steps in helping these kids.