Mind Over Tummy Troubles

Stomach pain in children may be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It's not unusual for some children to experience stomach pains for no apparent reason. This pain usually goes away on its own. But a little mind over matter might help too.

A recent study found that a type of mental health therapy may help children with abdominal pain.

The therapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy.

It is often used to treat depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions.

The therapy is available through most mental health clinics and mental healthcare professionals.

"Discuss your child's pain treatment plan with their pediatrician."

The study, led by Shelley van der Veek, PhD, of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, looked at using cognitive behavioral therapy for kids' abdominal pain.

During cognitive behavioral therapy, a therapist helps patients reframe the way they see things and how they emotionally respond to events in their lives.

The researchers spilt 104 children, aged 7 to 18, into two groups. The children had all been suffering from some kind of abdominal pain that did not appear to be caused by a specific, identifiable reason.

One half of the children received six sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy with psychology graduate students.

The other half visited a pediatrician or pediatric gastroenterologist six times.

The children's pain symptoms were assessed before receiving any treatment, immediately after treatment, six months later and one year later.

The researchers also looked at whether the children had other gastrointestinal problems, other pain, anxiety or depression at the follow-up visits.

The researchers found that the children in both groups reported a decrease in their abdominal pain, but there was no major difference between the two groups.

These results remained similar even six months later based on questionnaires the children filled out.

Sixty percent of the children receiving cognitive behavioral therapy had recovered or significantly improved while 56 percent of the children assigned to visit a pediatrician had recovered or majorly improved.

The percentages were also similar when the researchers looked at the children's ongoing diary record of their pain.

While 66 percent of the children receiving therapy had improvements based on their diaries, 63 percent of the children visiting the doctor had improvements.

In addition, the children's quality of life and symptoms of other pain, depression and anxiety (if any) also improved across both groups.

The researchers therefore concluded that visits to the doctor and six sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy were equally effective in treating children's abdominal pain.

The study was published October 14 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the Dutch Digestive Foundation. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 13, 2013
Last Updated:
October 14, 2013