Abdominal Pain & Irritable Bowel Syndrome Common in Teens

HARTFORD--Symptoms of abdominal discomfort and pain have been suggested by limited studies to be frequent in adolescents who seek medical care. The actual prevalence of gastrointestinal symptoms in adolescents in the community has not been studied.

A study published in The Journal of Pediatrics (1996;129:220-6) by Jeffrey S Hyams, M.D. and associates at the University of Connecticut evaluated 507 middle school (mean age 12.6 years) and high school (mean age 15.6 years) students and found that abdominal pain was noted by 75% of all students. Moreover, the pains were weekly in approximately 15% of the students. Eight percent of the students studied had seen a doctor for pains in the abdomen in the previous year.

The study also found that, in those students who reported histories of abdominal pains, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome were common (8% of middle school and 17% of high schoolers). Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome included abdominal pain with looser and more frequent bowel movements, hard and loose stools, straining, urgency, and bloating. Features of anxiety and depression were more common in students with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome than in those without these symptoms.

The study also noted a strong association with headaches and abdominal pains in the adolescents.

Recurrent abdominal pains in adolescents appears common. Parents and healthcare providers should appreciate this. Patients with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can benefit from stress management, dietary changes, and reassurance. Those with persisting or unusual symptoms, however, may require further medical evaluation.

For more information, please see the Irritable Bowel Syndrome article.
Last Editorial Review: 4/5/2002