If your child has chronic stomach pain that can’t be explained by a medical condition, it might be worth talking to a mental health professional. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics suggested that chronic stomachaches in childhood could be linked to anxiety disorders in adolescence and adulthood, according to a New York Times article.
In fact, almost half of the children in the study with chronic stomach pain developed anxiety in their teen or adult years compared with 20 percent of the control group.
Children with long-term stomach pain are also more likely to develop depression later on. About 40 percent of children in the study with chronic stomachaches later suffered from depression, according to the article.
It’s important to note that anxiety and chronic stomach pain interact with each other -- it’s not clear which came first in all cases. A MedPage article states that many children in the study had anxiety before the stomach pain, but depression tended to develop later on.
Another separate study released around the same time draws more attention to the relationship between depression and anxiety in adolescence as well. The study, published in Development and Psychopathology, stated that depressed teens have a higher risk of developing anxiety, according to Medical Xpress.
So it’s clear that many of these disorders and symptoms are related.
Dr. David Clarke, president of the Psychophyiologic Disorders Association, said in an email that in his experience with patients, oftentimes anxiety and functional abdominal pain are associated with “difficulties in the family that create tension,” as well as problems with school or extracurricular activities.
“This may be as straightforward as the parents (or sometimes the child him/herself) having excessive expectations or as devastating as sexual abuse,” Clarke said.
He said that even though many teens or young adults who experience anxiety, depression and stomach pain tend to have a difficult family or school environment, it’s not necessarily the parents’ fault.