MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Stomach pain is a common
childhood complaint, and now a new study suggests it may place some
kids at higher risk for anxiety disorders or depression as
The researchers compared 332 young adults, aged around 20, who
had abdominal pain as children to 147 participants who did not. Of
those who had suffered from stomach pain, 51 percent had an anxiety
disorder during their lifetime, and 30 percent had one currently.
By contrast, only 20 percent of adults without stomach pain as
children had an anxiety disorder.
"A decade later, individuals who had stomach pain continued to have high rates of anxiety disorders, even if they no longer had stomach pain," said study author Lynn Walker, a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
Moreover, 40 percent of young men and women who had abdominal
pain as children had depression during their lifetime, compared
with 16 percent of adults who didn't have stomach pain, according
to the study, which was published online Aug. 12 and in the
September print issue of the journal
Exactly how stomach pain and anxiety are linked is not entirely
clear, but "anxiety related to the pain, or even anxiety related to
other things in the child's life, can exacerbate the pain and lead
to increased suffering and disability," Walker said.
To break the cycle early, parents of children who complain of
stomach pain should first take their child to the doctor to see if
anything is going on medically, she said.
"If no significant disease is found, parents should encourage their children to continue their regular activities even if they are having pain or anticipate that they might have pain," Walker said. "When children stay home from school and other activities, they get behind in schoolwork and peer relationships, which increases stress, which in turn increases their suffering."
It spirals from there. "As they discontinue activities and
isolate themselves socially, they have more time to focus on the
pain and worry about it," she said. "As they fall behind their
peers, they have additional things to worry about."
In the study, social anxiety disorder -- a paralyzing fear of
being judged by others -- occurred among a quarter of children with
Experts agreed that parents should seek help early for kids with
recurrent stomach pain to try to reduce the risk of anxiety and
"Parents should take an active role in their child's life by seeking both medical attention and supportive counseling for their child. This will prevent potential worsening of anxiety, and will help children learn better ways of coping with stressors that may exacerbate their pain," said Dr. Scott Krakower, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.
Parents should take chronic stomach pain seriously from the
get-go, said Dr. Sarah Rebstock, director of the Pediatric Pain
Medicine Outpatient Clinic at Children's National Medical Center in
Washington, D.C. "Get referred early if your child has two weeks or
longer of stomach pain," she said. "Don't wait."
Although the study tied childhood stomach problems to adult
anxiety and depression, it didn't establish a cause-and-effect
Dr. Mark Lowenheim, a pediatric gastroenterologist at St.
Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, N.Y., was quick to caution that
not every child who has abdominal complaints will need to see a
"Certainly there is a subset of children who have abdominal pain who also have anxiety and depression, so it's not a surprise that they also have a higher incidence of anxiety and depression as adults, but this is not a given," he said.
Learn more about
and its treatmentat the American Psychological Association.
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