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Childhood Tummy Aches May Be Tied to Adult Anxiety

Study looked at young adults a decade later
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In the study, social anxiety disorder -- a paralyzing fear of being judged by others -- occurred among a quarter of children with stomach pain.

Experts agreed that parents should seek help early for kids with recurrent stomach pain to try to reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.

"Parents should take an active role in their child's life by seeking both medical attention and supportive counseling for their child. This will prevent potential worsening of anxiety, and will help children learn better ways of coping with stressors that may exacerbate their pain," said Dr. Scott Krakower, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.

Parents should take chronic stomach pain seriously from the get-go, said Dr. Sarah Rebstock, director of the Pediatric Pain Medicine Outpatient Clinic at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "Get referred early if your child has two weeks or longer of stomach pain," she said. "Don't wait."

Although the study tied childhood stomach problems to adult anxiety and depression, it didn't establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

Dr. Mark Lowenheim, a pediatric gastroenterologist at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, N.Y., was quick to caution that not every child who has abdominal complaints will need to see a mental-health professional.

"Certainly there is a subset of children who have abdominal pain who also have anxiety and depression, so it's not a surprise that they also have a higher incidence of anxiety and depression as adults, but this is not a given," he said.

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