Seeking Answers to Kids' Random Pains

Mother's mental health disorders and difficulties as baby may increase risk of later pains

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) You know those "growing pains" kids sometimes have? Aches and pains with no apparent cause? Researchers are trying to figure out which kids are most likely to have them.

A recent study found two possible risk factors for children who experience otherwise unexplained aches and pains.

One factor is having a mom with mental health problems. The other is having difficulty with basic physical activities like eating and sleeping as a baby.

"Ask your pediatrician about baby concerns."

The study, lead by Charlotte Ulrikka Rask, MD, PhD, of the Regional Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, aimed to determine what might put children at a higher risk for "functional somatic symptoms."

Functional somatic symptoms, or FSS, are physical issues that doctors cannot find a medical explanation for. They might include aches and pains, headaches, fatigue or dizziness.

Dr. Rask and fellow researchers tracked 1,327 children from shortly after birth until the children were 5 to 7 years old.

Information about the mother's mental health, including possible diagnoses, was gathered in the month after giving birth, and nurses visited the children four times in the kids' first year.

The nurses observed whether the children had difficulties with regulatory behaviors, which involve the everyday things we do to survive, like eating, sleeping and responding to touch.

In total, 13 mothers in the study were diagnosed with depression, bipolar or an anxiety disorder in the year after giving birth. The researchers also took note of the family's household income.

When the children were 5 to 7 years old, almost a quarter of them (23 percent) had functional somatic symptoms, which affect an estimated 10 to 30 percent of children in general.

The most severe cases affected 4.4 percent of the kids, with symptoms like headaches, stomach aches and pain in their arms and legs.

The kids most likely to have FSS were those whose moms had psychiatric disorders or who had multiple problems with regulatory behaviors.

The children of moms with the mental health disorders were seven times more likely to have FSS when they were 5, 6 or 7 years old.

The babies who had two more regulatory problems were almost three times more likely to have FSS at these ages.

The researchers hope this information might be used to help parents help their children earlier and perhaps reduce the risk of FSS.

"Parents of infants with regulatory problems could be taught to help their infants regulate their behavioral and physiological state, which potentially could reduce the risk of later development of impairing FSS," the authors wrote.

The study was published in September in the Journal of Pediatrics. The research was funded by TrygFonden, the Pharmaceutical Fund, the Beatrice Surovel Haskell Fund for Child Mental Health Research of Copenhagen, Mrs C. Hermansen’s Memorial Fund, Lily Bethine Lund’s Fund, the Research Initiative of Aarhus University Hospital Clinical Institute(Aarhus University) and the Research Fund of 2004.

It was also funded by the Medical Association in Aarhus, the Pool for Psychiatric Research (Aarhus County), Dagmar Marshall’s Fund, King Christian X Fund, the Fund of Research in Mental Disorders, Rosalie Petersen’s Fund, the Research Fund of the Danish Medical Association, the Fund of Research in Public Health (Aarhus County) and the Augustinus Fund. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 23, 2012
Last Updated:
October 25, 2012