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Chronic Functional Abdominal Pain: Causes and Treatment

Most children who are otherwise healthy may repeatedly complain about pain in their stomach. If this kind of pain lasts for more than two months, then this could be because of chronic functional abdominal pain. Functional abdominal pain is not something dangerous. However, if your child is experiencing excessive pain, then you must speak to a doctor.

Causes of chronic functional abdominal pain

The doctors are still not clear about what causes centrally mediated abdominal pain syndrome. For some children, it could be because of the nerves present in the gastrointestinal tract that becomes sensitive and causes pain. The pain is felt even when the intestine is working normally.

The problem could also be caused because of stress at school or at home. Children with chronic functional abdominal pain may, however, be doing well at school, which could be the reason for pressure to perform better.

Treating chronic functional abdominal pain

Those who complain of chronic functional abdominal pain will feel pain around their belly button. The location or pattern of pain may not always be predictable. The pain could occur slowly or suddenly. The pain could also be constant or keep decreasing in severity.

A teenager could suffer from pain in the upper abdomen, which may be accompanied by vomiting, nausea, and a feeling of being satiated early.

There are no tests that help to determine if the pain is caused because of chronic functional abdominal pain. So the doctor first starts to eliminate other causes, to begin with the diagnosis of functional abdominal pain.

Those suffering from functional pain would not be showing any alarming symptoms, and their routine tests would also be normal.

Treating functional pain is to help people to get back to their typical day to day activities and to lessen their discomfort. The treatments will include several strategies, and it could involve many visits to the doctor to understand what the best treatment combination could be.

Once functional pain gets diagnosed, the doctor will emphasize to the patient that the pain, even though real, is not caused because of something serious. The doctor would also explain that emotional factors could aggravate the pain. Thus anxiety, stress, and depression could cause the pain to get triggered or cause the pain to worsen. The doctor would also advise the patient to get back to his routine life and be self-reliant.

Psychological interventions may be required to ease the pain. Some are given a cognitive behavioral therapy like coping skills. Relaxation techniques, hypnosis, and other treatments can be advised to help the patient to relax and tolerate the pain.

Mild pain relievers may be prescribed to give pain relief. If the patient feels depressed and anxious, which increases pain, then the doctor may prescribe antidepressants.

The doctor would suggest eating a diet that is rich in fiber. Diet for functional abdominal pain would ask to avoid fried food, chocolates, caffeine, high-fat food, spicy food, and tomato-based products.

The family members of the patient would be advised not to give too much attention to the pain and to maintain their clam.

For children, the doctor will mainly involve the parents and ask them to convince the child to be independent and continue with his or her typical responsibilities. The doctor may suggest a diet that is free of lactose and gluten and rich in fiber.


How long does chronic functional abdominal pain last?

The functional pain lasts almost for three months. The pain description, however, could vary. The most consistent characteristic of functional abdominal pain is that the pain is inconsistent.

Can abdominal pain be psychological?

Functional abdominal pain is not caused because of inflammation, blockage, or infection. The pain, however, is real, and this occurs because of the digestive organs that are extra sensitive. The pain gets aggravated because of bowel movements and changes in the gastrointestinal movement.

The child’s intestine has a complicated nervous system and muscles which are responsible for moving food through his or her digestive tract. For some children, the nerves get very sensitive, and this causes pain even during the normal functioning of the intestine. The child could even cry, and at times the pain could be so severe that it could make the child sweat.

The sensitivity in the digestive tract could be caused because of stress or even because of constipation.

Even though living with functional abdominal pain syndrome is a problem, the child continues to have healthy growth and enjoys good health.


Functional abdominal pain is a stubborn pain that does not get resolved with any therapeutic treatment. The pain could stay or come and go. Functional abdominal pain can be accompanied by constipation, diarrhea, as well as irritable bowel movements. The child could also be suffering from some related problems like joint pain, anxiety, depression, sensitivity to sound, light, and noise, and sleep disorders.

Even though functional abdominal pain is not severe, it could start interfering with the normal day to day activities of the child. Most children who suffer from functional abdominal pain will see an improvement in their symptoms after they undergo proper treatment and therapy. However, there could be some who may experience pain even in their adulthood. The doctor would emphasize improving the quality of life, which is the primary treatment to help children and adults cope with functional abdominal pain.

Emma Ruben
Emma R

Since I was a child, I’ve loved reading and writing. Now as an adult, I’ve turned it into a career. I’m currently a Journalist at the National Indigenous Times where I cover stories with an Indigenous voice or point of view on beats ranging from fashion and design, the environment, to occasional political coverage.

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