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Childhood abdominal pain linked to future anxiety risk


In a study, adults who had abdominal pain as children were more likely to have an anxiety disorder or depression during their lifetime.

In background information for the study, which was published Aug. 12 on the website of the journal Pediatrics, researchers noted children with functional abdominal pain are more likely to have anxiety or depression during childhood, but few studies have looked at what happens when these kids are adults.

Researchers with Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., tracked children with abdominal pain and followed up with them as young adults. Of 332 adults who had abdominal pain as children, 51% had an anxiety disorder during their lifetime (and 30% had a current diagnosis), compared with 20% of 147 adults in a control group.

In addition, 40% of adults who had abdominal pain as children had depression during their lifetime, compared with 16% of adults in the control group. Current risk of depression did not differ between the patients with functional abdominal pain and the controls.

“In most cases, initial onset of anxiety disorders was before pediatric [functional abdominal pain]evaluation; onset of depressive orders was subsequent to FAP evaluation,” the authors wrote.

Among study participants with functional abdominal pain, the risk of current anxiety disorders at follow-up was 40% for those with functional gastrointestinal disorders, compared with 24% for those without such disorders. The risk of current anxiety disorders among the control group was 12%. The risk of current depressive disorders did not differ among those with and without functional gastrointestinal disorders.

The authors concluded that patients with functional abdominal pain carry long-term vulnerability to anxiety that begins in childhood and persists into adulthood, even if their abdominal pain resolves.

Study abstract:


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