Study: Stomach Aches May Be Connected To Anxiety Disorder And Depression

“My stomach aches!”

It really doesn’t matter if you are a parent, a grandparent, sibling, co-worker, or a friend…there is a pretty good chance that sometime in your life you’ve heard someone utter the phrase, “My stomach aches!” Depending on the circumstances the stricken person may indeed have a stomach problem – like food poisoning, appendicitis, stomach flu, an allergic reaction to a food item…the list goes on and on. And perhaps we all know someone who every so often will complain of a stomachache, but they never actually appear sick or have obvious symptoms.  It turns out unexplained stomach aches or pain is referred to by medical professionals as “functional abdominal pain.” The pain is real, but there is not an obvious medical cause.

New study examines childhood functional abdominal pain and its connection to anxiety and depression

Many news outlets (see related articles below) are abuzz this week reporting on the results of a new study that was published online August 12 in the journal Pediatrics: Functional Abdominal Pain in Childhood and Long-term Vulnerability to Anxiety Disorders. The lead author of this study was Lynn Walker, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

Study’s parameters…


  • Researchers followed 332 child patients with functional abdominal pain (FAP)
  • Each of the 332 children had visited a doctor for stomach pain between the ages of 8 and 17.
  • Researchers also had a control group of 147 children who never reported stomach issues.
  • All of the subjects were followed up during adolescence and young adulthood for presence of functional gastrointestinal disorders and psychiatric disorders.


Study’s results…


  • 51% of children who had FAP also had an anxiety disorder sometime in their lifetime
  • 20% of those who never had FAP as a child had an anxiety disorder during their lifetime
  • 40% of adults who had FAP as a child had depression during their lifetime.
  • 16% of those who never had FAP had depression at one point and time.


Going forward…

As we have often said, parenting is a process and a journey. When our children complain of not feeling well we are often at a loss when a medical professional cannot pinpoint a diagnosis. As Miranda van Tilberg, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina shared with the New York Times:

“The take-away message should be you should not be afraid, if your doctor talks to you about anxiety in your child, to seek help from a mental health professional, because it could help your child feel better.”

Depression can start at a very early age, as can anxiety disorders.

You might enjoy watching CBS News chief medical correspondent, Dr. Jon LaPook discussing this study.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

A well known British member of parliament once offered this observation…

“When I repress my emotion, my stomach keeps score…” Enoch Powell


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