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Functional abdominal pain: what clinicians need to know


Abdominal pain in childhood is extremely common and presents frequently to both primary and secondary care, with many children having recurrent pain which impacts on daily functioning. Despite this most children have no discernible underlying pathology. We discuss the underlying mechanism for functional abdominal pain (visceral hypersensitivity), the evidence base linking parental anxiety and patient symptoms, and how parents can be supported in managing their children’s symptoms by addressing questions commonly asked by children and families. We look at the evidence for a one-stop rational approach to investigation including a coeliac screen, inflammatory markers and consideration of stool faecal calprotectin, in the absence of red flags. We evaluate commonly used treatments for functional abdominal pain, within a context of managing family expectations. Given the limitations in pharmacological treatment options, trials of probiotics, peppermint oil, mebeverine and (for short-term use only) hyoscine butylbromide may be appropriate. Psychological interventions including cognitive–behavioural therapy, distraction techniques and hypnotherapy have a better evidence base. There is also some evidence for other complementary therapies in children, including yoga and neurostimulation. Outcome is generally good providing there is child and family acceptance of the multiple factors implicated in the aetiology of the pain.

  • gastroenterology
  • pain
  • general paediatrics

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