Kids' Tummy Aches Eased by Imagination

Study: Guided Imagery Helps Children Get Over Their Chronic Stomachaches

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 12, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 12, 2009 -- Children who often get stomachaches may get more relief when they learn to use their imagination to feel better, a new study shows.

The study, published in the November edition of Pediatrics, shows that more children with chronic stomachaches improved when their treatment included guided imagery as well as standard medical care.

"What is especially exciting about our study is that children can clearly reduce their abdominal pain a lot on their own with guidance from audio recordings, and they get much better results that way than from medical care alone," researcher Miranda van Tilburg, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says in a news release.

Stomachache Study

The study included 34 children aged 6 to 15 who were treated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University Medical Center.

All of the kids had abdominal pain with no clear medical explanation. They all got standard medical care for those chronic stomachaches.

Some of the children also got an instructional DVD and CDs that contained guided imagery exercises. For comparison, the rest of the kids didn't get those CDs until two months later.

One of the guided imagery programs asked the kids to imagine "floating comfortably on a big, puffy cloud" and relaxing progressively. Another program described imagining a special object melting into the kids' hands "like butter and making the hand shiny and warm," and then instructing the kids to put that hand on their belly, "imagining the light and warmth spreading throughout their belly and making a protective barrier inside that does not let anything irritate the belly."

The kids used the CDs for eight weeks. The children liked the CDs, and most of them listened to the CDs more often than required.

At the end of the eight-week period, 63% of the kids who had received the guided imagery CDs had had their stomach pain ease by at least half, compared to about 27% of children who had only gotten standard medical care.

Then, the kids who hadn't gotten the CDs right away had their turn using guided imagery. Eight weeks later, 61% of them had had at least a 50% improvement in their stomach pain.

After eight weeks of treatment, the kids gradually used the CDs less often, though they were supposed to keep using the guided imagery techniques that they had learned.

Six months later, about 62% of the kids who had responded to the guided imagery treatment were still doing well.

Show Sources


Van Tilburg, M. Pediatrics, November 2009; vol 124: pp e890-e897.

News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.

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