Functional abdominal pain is the most common complaint seen by pediatric gastroenterologists. Almost every child and adolescent will experience abdominal pain at some point. The pain is usually felt between the chest and the pelvis, most commonly concentrating in the middle, near the belly button. The pain can be come and go or it can be continuous. It can also be made worse by esophageal reflux, constipation, food intolerance, medication side effects, viral or bacterial infections or stress and anxiety.
By definition, functional abdominal pain is not caused by an anatomic, biochemical, inflammatory or infectious abnormality. Your child’s gastroenterologist will carefully exam and test your child, but if no other cause is found and pain continues, it is defined as functional abdominal pain.
Functional abdominal pain is thought to be caused by both the input from the overly sensitive nerves of the GI tract muscles and the nerves that are processing these signals in the brain.
Normal functions of the GI tract, like stretching and pushing food down after we eat, may feel more painful due to these sensitive nerves. Any periods of stress, anxiety and depression worsen the symptoms because of the close interaction between the brain and the GI tract.
While there is no “cure” for functional abdominal pain, the symptoms can be managed with medication. Dietary changes can also help. Fortunately, functional abdominal pain causes no long-term health problems. It is important to continue with life as normal, attending school and regular activities, despite occasional pain.