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Gastrointestinal Symptoms Linked to Childhood Abuse

Last Updated: March 15, 2010.

Children who have been maltreated may be at an increased risk for unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms, and the connection is partly mediated by psychological distress, according to a study in the March/April issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

MONDAY, March 15 (HealthDay News) -- Children who have been maltreated may be at an increased risk for unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms, and this connection is partly mediated by psychological distress, according to a study in the March/April issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

Miranda A.L. van Tilburg, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and colleagues analyzed data on 845 children observed from the age of 4 to 12 years in the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect. Information on gastrointestinal symptoms was gathered at two-year intervals using the Youth Self-Report completed by parents until the child reached the age of 12, and then using the child's own reporting. Gastrointestinal problems were correlated to self-reported psychological distress at age 12, and to maltreatment allegations reported to Child Protective Services (CPS).

The researchers found that lifetime allegations of sexual abuse made to the CPS were associated with abdominal pain at age 12 (odds ratio, 1.75), and that in 91 percent of cases, sexual abuse preceded or was concurrent with abdominal pain. Also, a child's recall of physical, psychological or sexual abuse was associated with both abdominal pain and nausea/vomiting (odds ratio range, 1.5 to 2.1). When the researchers adjusted for psychological distress, they found that most effects were insignificant, but the relationship between physical abuse and nausea/vomiting was not (odds ratio, 1.5).

"Unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms in at-risk youth may be psychosomatic and should prompt consideration of possible psychosocial contributors, particularly maltreatment. It may be essential for the safety of the youth and important for successful treatment to identify child maltreatment victims complaining of unexplained abdominal symptoms," the authors write.

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