Functional Abdominal Pain

To make an appointment call 212-305-5903

What is functional abdominal pain?

Children who repeatedly complain of stomach aches for two months or more may have functional abdominal pain (FAP). With FAP, there is no blockage, inflammation, or infection. However, the pain is very real, and may also be related to changes in bowel function.

The intestine has a complicated system of nerves and muscles that helps move food forward and carry out digestion. In some children, these nerves become very sensitive, and digestion and elimination becomes uncomfortable. Fortunately, this does not affect the normal growth and general good health of the child.

Digestive tract sensitivity can be triggered by a variety of things, such as a viral or bacterial infection, stress, foods or constipation.

What are the symptoms of functional abdominal pain?

  • Pain around the umbilicus (belly button), though location isn’t always predictable
  • The pain may occur suddenly or come on slowly
  • It may constant or vary in degree
  • Dyspepsia, or upper abdominal pain associated with nausea, vomiting, and/or a feeling of fullness after just a few bites of food
  • Abdominal pain with bowel movements

How is functional abdominal pain diagnosed?

  • A detailed history and physical examination
  • Basic blood, urine and stool tests are often performed to screen for other conditions that can cause recurrent pain
  • X-rays, other imaging studies, extensive lab tests and endoscopy: recommended only for children whose history, exam or basic lab results don’t fit a diagnosis of functional pain
  • Your child’s doctor will also closely follow the child to see if any changes take place which would suggest a different underlying problem

How is functional abdominal pain treated?

Experts at our Pediatric Gastrointestinal Motility Center take a multidisciplinary approach and work very closely with the parents and children to ensure best possible outcome.

We work with family members to put you, and not the pain, in charge of the child’s life. Identifying and managing the child’s pain triggers, such as constipation, stress or food intolerance often helps reduce the pain. Some children may also benefit from medication.

Others find proven approaches to handling pain, such as breathing techniques, to be of help.

It is important to prevent the pain from becoming a reason for missing school or social activities and making the child the center of attention at home. Even when dealing with persistent pain, parents should remember that this is a known condition and it is not dangerous. Keeping a positive attitude, with a focus on getting better, will send the right signal to your child.