Functional Abdominal Pain Program

There is nothing worse than seeing a child in pain. At the CHOC Children’s Functional Abdominal Pain Program, we understand when a family is searching for answers for their child’s abdominal pain. Abdominal pain that cannot be explained by any visible or detectable abnormality, after a thorough physical examination and appropriate further testing, is known as functional abdominal pain.

It is common for patients with functional abdominal pain to receive negative results on diagnostic tests and continue to suffer with chronic, unexplained pain.

Compassionate Patient- and Family-centered Care

The CHOC Children’s Functional Abdominal Pain Program specializes in working with patients and families to find ways to treat pain-related, functional gastrointestinal disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, functional dyspepsia and functional abdominal pain syndrome. Our gastroenterologist, dietitian and psychologist team up with patients and their caregivers to assess and diagnose the type and possible cause of pain your child is experiencing. With you and your child’s input, we develop a personalized treatment plan. Our treatment plan is age and developmentally appropriate for your child, and involves educating you and your family on ways to help your child deal with their pain.

Treatments may include:

The Functional Abdominal Pain Program team also collaborates with CHOC’s neurologists, rheumatologists, cardiologists and pain management specialists as needed to ensure that patients receive appropriate and coordinated care. Parents can also work with our social workers in order to connect with resources that can help them and their children cope with school issues that might arise due to the chronic illness.

Finding a Diagnosis

Upon referral to our program, you and your child will meet with our gastroenterologist, psychologist and dietitian so that they may discuss your child’s medical history and perform a physical evaluation. Many of our patients who are referred to the program have undergone some diagnostic tests with their pediatrician or previous gastroenterologist. Your CHOC gastroenterologist will look at the results of these tests, and may order additional tests to rule out gastrointestinal disorders and conditions. Tests that may be used include:

Understanding Functional Abdominal Pain Syndrome

Functional bowel pain syndrome is pain that has no medical explanation. This means that although the child is in pain, there is no evidence of tissue damage. This pain impairs the daily life of the patients.

Although the exact cause is not known, nerve signals or chemicals secreted by the gut or brain, may cause the gut to be more sensitive to triggers that normally do not cause significant pain (such as stretching or gas bloating). This type of abdominal pain is often referred to as “functional abdominal pain.”

It is thought to have a bio-psycho-social basis, which means that multiple factors play a role in development and continuation of functional abdominal pain.

A child with functional abdominal pain syndrome often does not feel well. Their pain may prevent them from engaging in normal life activities like school, spending time with friends and engaging with family. They also may begin to worry about the foods they eat and begin eating or drinking less in order to make their pain stop. Children who have missed school and activities due to their pain may also become anxious about returning to “normal life” or become depressed about missing out on things they love.

The pain is usually located around the umbilicus (belly button), however the pattern or location of abdominal pain is not always predictable. The pain may occur suddenly or slowly increase in severity. The pain may be constant or may increase and decrease in severity.

Some children with functional abdominal pain may experience dyspepsia (upper abdominal pain associated with nausea, vomiting, and/or a feeling of fullness after just a few bites). Others may experience abdominal pain with bowel movements.

Integrative Health at CHOC

In addition to the services provided as part of the Functional Abdominal Pain Program, CHOC has the region’s only hospital-based and pediatric-focused integrative complementary medicine program. We proudly offer evidence-based treatments such as massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, biofeedback, hypnotherapy and guided imagery to relieve troublesome or painful symptoms, and improve well-being with the goal of creating a better quality of life for patients and their families.

Learn more about integrative health treatments at CHOC.

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UC Irvine

CHOC Children's is affiliated with the UC Irvine School of Medicine