Chronic abdominal pain, defined as long-lasting intermittent or constant abdominal pain, is a common pediatric problem encountered by primary care physicians, medical subspecialists and surgical specialists. Chronic abdominal pain in children is usually functional-that is, without objective evidence of an underlying organic disorder. The Subcommittee on Chronic Abdominal Pain of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition has prepared this report based on a comprehensive, systematic review and rating of the medical literature. This report accompanies a clinical report based on the literature review and expert opinion.
The subcommittee examined the diagnostic and therapeutic value of a medical and psychologic history, diagnostic tests, and pharmacological and behavioral therapy. The presence of alarm symptoms or signs (such as weight loss, gastrointestinal bleeding, persistent fever, chronic severe diarrhea and significant vomiting) is associated with a higher prevalence of organic disease. There was insufficient evidence to state that the nature of the abdominal pain or the presence of associated symptoms (such as anorexia, nausea, headache and joint pain) can discriminate between functional and organic disorders. Although children with chronic abdominal pain and their parents are more often anxious or depressed, the presence of anxiety, depression, behavior problems or recent negative life events does not distinguish between functional and organic abdominal pain. Most children who are brought to the primary care physician's office for chronic abdominal pain are unlikely to require diagnostic testing. Pediatric studies of therapeutic interventions were examined and found to be limited or inconclusive.