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Chapter: Paediatrics: Gastroenterology and nutrition

Paediatrics: Recurrent abdominal pain

Defined as more than two discrete episodes in a 3mth period interfering with school and/or usual activities.

Recurrent abdominal pain


   Defined as more than two discrete episodes in a 3mth period interfering with school and/or usual activities.

   Incidence: 10–15% in school age children.



No organic cause is found in 90%. Organic causes include: constipation; dietary indiscretion; food intolerance (lactose or fructose); irritable bow-el syndrome; psychogenic pain; peptic ulcer (H. pylori); coeliac disease; abdominal migraine (cyclic vomiting syndrome); gallbladder disease; renal colic; dysmenorrhoea; UTI; mittleschmerz; and physical or sexual abuse.




Non-organic disease


This form occurs in a thriving, generally well child; with short episodes of peri-umbilical pain, good appetite, no other GI symptoms, no family his-tory of migraine or coeliac disease, and normal examination. Co-existent symptoms such as headache and fatigue are common and this is often referred to as recurrent abdominal pain syndrome.


Organic cause


Likely if presentation is different to above or child <2yrs. ‘Red flag’ symp-toms include weight loss, diarrhoea, blood per rectum, joint symptoms, skin rashes, family history of inflammatory bowel disease, or coeliac di-sease.






Ethnic origin (lactase deficiency occurs in dark skinned races), atopy, rela-tionship to eating, precipitating events (e.g. cow’s milk introduction in milk protein enteropathy), social history (e.g. start of school, parental separa-tion), and family history.


Full examination




   If non-organic disease is likely: no or very little investigation is needed, e.g. FBC, ESR/CRP, U&E, LFT, coeliac antibody screen, urine M, C&S, faecal M, C&S (if there is a recent history of foreign travel).

   If organic disease is likely: investigate as above, plus consider hydrogen breath test (lactose intolerance); C13 breath test (Helicobactor pylori); US; barium radiology; upper and lower GI endoscopy.




Non-organic disease


Confident reassurance; education that condition is common and pain is genuine (just like headaches); personal support; avoidance of associated stressful events (e.g. bullying); acknowledgement of symptom, whilst at same time down playing pain; minimize secondary gains from abdominal pain, e.g. school avoidance; increased dietary fibre intake may be beneficial;

formal psychotherapy in complex and resistant cases. Multidisciplinary support and engagement of the family is essential.


Organic disease

Treat the underlying cause.




Approximately 25% of children with functional recurrent abdominal pain continue to have pain or headaches in adulthood. Functional sequelae are common.


Abdominal migraine


Abdominal pain is associated with pallor, headaches, anorexia, nausea, +/– vomiting. The condition overlaps with periodic syndrome and cyclic vom-iting syndrome. There is usually a strong family history of migraine.




Dietary: avoid citrus fruits, chocolate, caffeine-containing drinks (e.g. cola), solid cheeses.

Pharmacological: pizotifen, sumatriptan, gabapentin, or amitriptyline may be helpful.



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