Tag Archives: #abdominalpain

Childhood Abdominal Pain May be Linked to Disordered Eating in Teenagers (Medicine)

New research shows that people who suffer from recurrent abdominal pain in childhood may be more likely to have disordered eating as teenagers.

This is the first study to provide prospective evidence of an association between recurrent abdominal pain at aged 7-9 years and fasting to control weight at aged 16 years. The study, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, suggests that recurrent abdominal pain, the most common gastro-intestinal complaint of childhood, may be an independent risk factor for later fasting to control weight.

Researchers at the University of Oxford, Duke University USA, and the University of Bristol, used the ‘Children of the 90s’ population cohort of 14,000 children in the UK, to explore this association.

Dr. Kate Stein, lead author on the study, Department of Psychiatry, University Oxford, said, ‘Record numbers of young people are being referred to NHS eating disorder services with more than twice as many referrals in 2020 as there were in 2017. The factors behind eating disorders are complex, but our findings suggest that for some patients, recurrent abdominal pain in childhood may precede and contribute to later problems.

‘While we cannot confirm that childhood recurrent abdominal pain increases the risk of developing an eating disorder, we suspect that some children become fearful of their pain and start to avoid foods which they associate with the pain. This could then set them on a trajectory which leads to unhelpful fasting behaviours in adolescence.’

The authors of the study outline three specific recommendations for clinicians:

  • Enquire about a history of childhood recurrent abdominal pain in patients with eating disorders
  • Assess disordered eating in patients with gastro-intestinal disorders, such as childhood recurrent abdominal pain
  • Address patients’ anxiety associated with their gastro-intestinal sensations when treating eating disorders

Dr. Stein continues, ‘By enquiring about a history of childhood recurrent abdominal pain in all patients with eating disorders, we would be able to identify patients whose childhood pain may have contributed to their food avoidance and tailor their treatment plan accordingly. Similarly, by assessing disordered eating in patients with gastro-intestinal problems, we may be able to prevent unhelpful eating patterns as they grow up.’

The study findings show an association between a child suffering from abdominal pain 3 or more times a year and later fasting for weight control at aged 16 years. However, there was no association found between childhood abdominal pain suffered 5 or more times a year and later adolescent fasting for weight control at aged 16 years.

Dr Stein, explains, ‘It could be that for childhood recurrent abdominal pain, the frequency of pain may be less important to long term outcomes than the severity of the pain, the distress caused and/or the child’s functional impairment resulting from the pain. As a doctor, I have noticed that a number of our teenage patients with anorexia nervosa suffered from painful gastro-intestinal (GI) problems in childhood (such as abdominal pain or constipation). Thus, a child’s early GI experiences could provide a key into our understanding of the disordered eating seen in so many young people today.’

Featured image: New research shows that people who suffer from recurrent abdominal pain in childhood may be more likely to have disordered eating as teenagers. Image credit: Shutterstock


Reference: Stein, K, Warne, N, Heron, J, Zucker, N, Bould, H. Do children with recurrent abdominal pain grow up to become adolescents who control their weight by fasting? Results from a UK population‐based cohort. Int J Eat Disord. 2021; 1– 10. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.23513


Provided by University of Oxford

Autism Study Suggests Connection Between Repetitive Behaviors, Gut Problems (Psychology)

In children with autism, repetitive behaviors and gastrointestinal problems may be connected, new research has found.

The study found that increased severity of other autism symptoms was also associated with more severe constipation, stomach pain and other gut difficulties.

The research, which appears in the journal Autism, found no association between social and communication difficulties and gastrointestinal symptoms.

The study doesn’t explain the biological mechanism for the relationship between repetitive behaviors, such as rocking back and forth and hand flapping, and gut problems. But it helps establish that gastrointestinal symptoms may exacerbate repetitive behaviors, or vice versa, a finding that could one day help lead to helpful interventions, said Payal Chakraborty, a graduate student in The Ohio State University College of Public Health who led the study.

Children with autism spectrum disorder are more likely than their typically developing peers to experience a range of gastrointestinal abnormalities, including chronic diarrhea, constipation, food sensitivities and abdominal pain. These symptoms have been associated with higher levels of irritability and aggressive behavior, but less is known about their relationship with other autism spectrum disorder symptoms.

“In the general population, there’s a fair amount of evidence about the connection between mood and mental disorders and gastrointestinal difficulties. In autism, we wonder if the gut problems children experience are a core part of the disease itself or whether they’re brought on by other symptoms that children with autism experience,” Chakraborty said.

Chakraborty began the study as a student at Duke University, where she worked at the Center for Autism and Brain Development and became interested in the potential connection between the gut and other characteristics of the developmental disability.

Using data from a study designed to test the viability of cord blood transplants as an autism treatment, Chakraborty looked at detailed clinical measures and reports provided by the families of 176 children who were two to seven years old to see if she could find any insights into the drivers of gastrointestinal problems. Almost all of the children, 93%, had at least one gastrointestinal symptom.

“GI problems are a significant issue for many people with autism and there’s evidence that these symptoms might exacerbate certain autism behaviors, which can lead to greater developmental challenges,” she said.

The specifics of the relationship are unclear, but it’s possible that repetitive behaviors in children with autism could be a coping mechanism that helps them manage their gastrointestinal discomfort, Chakraborty said, adding that the symptoms of autism often emerge at a time when children aren’t in a position to adequately communicate their physical suffering with words.

“Gastrointestinal problems are a major concern for many children with autism and we still have a lot to learn about the complicated gut/brain axis,” she said.

References: Payal Chakraborty et al. Gastrointestinal problems are associated with increased repetitive behaviors but not social communication difficulties in young children with autism spectrum disorders, Autism (2020). https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1362361320959503 DOI: 10.1177/1362361320959503

Provided by Ohio State University