Does your child complain of abdominal pain, but doctors can’t find an underlying cause?
It’s a problem that is so common in young people — boys and girls — that the National Institutes of Health is funding a 13-month, multi-site study to investigate whether behavioral interventions can make a difference.
“If we perform tests, we won’t find any disease reason, or medical reason, to explain the pain,” said Dr. Kim Swanson, Ph.D., who is the study’s principal investigator at St. Charles Family Care in Redmond, one of the participating sites.
Abdominal pain that isn’t linked to conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis is one of the most common reasons why children are seen in primary care clinics—and miss school, Swanson said.
Also known as functional abdominal pain, or FAP, it affects up to 15 percent of children ages 4 through 12. While the exact cause is not known, researchers believe FAP may be related to a child’s diet, anxiety, depression, increased sensitivity or immaturity of the nervous system.
Left untreated, up to 66 percent of these children will experience health problems into adulthood such as anxiety or irritable bowel syndrome, a condition that has an impact on quality of life that is comparable to diabetes and congestive heart failure.
We’ve found if we can intervene early with these children, we can prevent lifelong problems” and reduce health care costs, Swanson said. FAP accounts for more than 50 percent of visits to pediatric gastroenterologists.
The study, which also involves the University of Washington School of Social Work and University of North Carolina, will investigate two treatment paths: one is a parent-only intervention, in which parents learn skills to reduce the severity of their child’s symptoms.
“If we train (the parents) how to respond to the kids’ symptoms better, the kids get better,” Swanson said. One example is training parents in distraction techniques that will help their children focus on something other than the pain they’re experiencing.
The other treatment path will focus on digestion and nutritional factors.
St. Charles Family Care in Redmond is recruiting children ages 7 through 12 who have experienced at least three episodes of unexplained abdominal pain over a three-month period.
They must have lived with their participating caregiver for at least three months. As a reward for participating, the children and their caregivers will receive gift cards to local and online retailers.
For more information about the study, and to enroll, call Dr. Kim Swanson at St. Charles Family Care in Redmond at 541-548-2164.