Children's Hospital Colorado

Chronic Abdominal Pain in Kids

What is chronic abdominal pain?

Chronic abdominal pain is defined as persistent or recurrent episodes of abdominal pain (in the belly or stomach) lasting for more than three months. The abdominal pain may be caused by a specific disease like Crohn's disease, or be due to a functional disorder.

Functional gastrointestinal disorders (such as irritable bowel syndrome and functional abdominal pain) are not explained by any identifiable structural or biochemical abnormalities – meaning doctors don't know what cause them. Children with functional disorders often have a normal medical work up.

What causes chronic abdominal pain?

In a small number of children, abdominal pain is caused by an underlying, identifiable condition (e.g., Crohn's disease). However, in most children, the pain has no identifiable cause. This does not mean that the pain isn't real.

Although the exact cause is unknown, nerve signals or chemicals secreted by the gut or brain may cause the gut to be more sensitive to triggers that normally do not cause significant pain (such as stretching, gas bloating or stress). Because of this change in bowel function, this type of abdominal pain is often referred to as "functional abdominal pain."

Who gets chronic abdominal pain?

Recurrent abdominal pain typically occurs prior to puberty, with two peaks of frequency. The first peak occurs between 5 to 7 years of age, with equal frequency in boys and girls and in 5 to 8% of children.

The second peak, occurring in nearly 25%, occurs between 8 and 12 years of age and is far more common in girls. The child often has a family history of functional bowel disease such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Get to know our pediatric experts.

Ronald Sokol, MD

Ronald Sokol, MD

Gastroenterology - Pediatric, Pediatrics

Nathalie Nguyen, MD

Nathalie Nguyen, MD

Gastroenterology - Pediatric, Pediatrics

Edwin Liu, MD

Edwin Liu, MD

Gastroenterology - Pediatric

Frederick Suchy, MD

Frederick Suchy, MD

Gastroenterology - Pediatric, Pediatrics