Study: Childhood Stomach Pain Leads to Adult Anxiety


A new long-term study has concluded that children who complain of regular stomach pain are much more likely to develop anxiety disorders as they get older and enter adulthood. The study, which was done by Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee followed 332 children between the ages of 8 and 17 who visited the doctor for unexplained stomach pain. The researchers made it clear that they were focused on stomach pain that had no obvious cause like celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

Over time, kids with chronic stomach pain were interviewed at about age 20 and they found 51 percent of people with stomach pain as children had (or still had) an anxiety disorder and 30 percent currently met the criteria for a diagnosis. The control group of children they followed, who did not have chronic stomach pain did much better later in life. Only 20 percent of people in the no-stomach pain group had ever had an anxiety disorder and 12 percent currently had one.

The interesting question is whether anxiety caused stomach pain or did the pain bring about anxiety. The researchers thought one approach that doctors should take early on was to ask about anxiety. Of course once that was established, the worry would be whether doctors would start prescribing drugs to deal with anxiety. Considering how many drugs are prescribed in this country each year and how early many children start to use psycho-active drugs like Ritalin, Adderol, and various anti-depressants, this might not be a great idea. When you consider how addictive and strong anxiolytic drugs like Xanax are, the prospect of using such drugs on kids does not bode well.

As a parent, I’d think lots of exercise, healthy diet and good, open lines of communication would be far more effective, even if people are likely to want the instant fix that pills sometimes offer. What about starting kids early on things like Yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques? I suspect we’d end up with much healthier and happier adults in the long run.

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