Did you know that somewhere between 8 and 25 percent of kids suffer from chronic abdominal pain? And for most of these kids, the pain does not seem to have any direct medical cause, such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease. But that doesn't make this "functional" abdominal pain — as it is often referred to — any less distressing. But a new study has found that talk therapy may be just as effective (if not even more so) at relieving kids' symptoms than medication and dietary changes.
About 100 children — age 7 to 18 — who suffered from chronic stomach pain for several years participated in the study. Researchers from Emma Children's Hospital Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, Holland, randomly assigned half of the children to talk therapy sessions and the other half to meet weekly with a pediatrician.
The children who went to therapy were treated with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) that was tailored to the needs of each child. Techniques included relaxation exercises and strategies to distract kids from stomach pain or change the way they thought about their pain. The children who met with a pediatrician were given information about diet and nutrition and prescribed medication if necessary.
After one year of treatment, both groups noted significant improvement, but it is interesting to note that more children improved via the CBT method than with medication and dietary changes. Sixty percent of kids in the CBT group had fewer or no stomach aches, compared to 56 percent of those who had seen a doctor. Unfortunately, the study didn't include a control group of kids who were not treated, so it's hard to really know how many would have gotten better on their own without any kind of treatment.
No one method will be right for every child. But if your child is suffering from chronic stomach pain and traditional treatments haven't helped, CBT therapy might be worth a look.
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