Childhood recurrent abdominal pain predictive of future anxiety problems

Last Updated: 2001-07-09 14:56:29 EDT (Reuters Health)

By Anthony J. Brown, MD

WESTPORT, CT (Reuters Health) – Children with unexplained recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) are much more likely than other children to manifest anxiety disorders as young adults, according to a report published in the July online edition of Pediatrics.

Dr. John V. Campo, from the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Pittsburgh, and colleagues assessed the incidence of mental health problems and somatic complaints in 28 young adults with a history consistent with RAP in childhood. Twenty-eight matched individuals who had undergone tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy during childhood served as the control group.

The researchers found that former RAP patients were much more likely than control patients to have anxiety symptoms and disorders and hypochondriacal beliefs. In addition, poorer social functioning and a higher rate of current psychoactive medication use were noted in the former RAP group. A nonsignificant association between childhood RAP and lifetime psychiatric disorders was also identified.

Former RAP patients and control subjects did not differ significantly in the incidence of current abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, other somatic symptoms, and complaints of physical or sexual abuse, the authors note.

"We found that recurrent abdominal pain in childhood is probably a better predictor of emotional disorders in adulthood than a predictor of abdominal pain in adulthood," Dr. Campo told Reuters Health.

"We selected former tonsillectomy patients as the control group because they represent a similar medically ill group," Dr. Campo explained. "Interestingly, we found that although former RAP patients typically had more hypochondriacal beliefs, medical resource use was actually higher in the former tonsillectomy patients," he said. "This tends to make the association between childhood RAP and future psychiatric disorders stronger."

"We also thought it was interesting that a family history of generalized anxiety was more common among former RAP patients," Dr. Campo noted.

"From our study and others, it is clear that there is a pretty powerful comorbidity with anxiety and to a lesser extent depressive disorders," Dr. Campo stated. "We are currently doing a longitudinal study…to further investigate the relationship between anxiety and functional abdominal pain," he said.

Online Pediatrics 2001;108:e1.

-Westport Newsroom 203 319 2700

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