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That Gut Feeling

We have all heard that phrase. But what does it mean? New medical information tells us that there is constant communication between our guts and our brains. We have all felt “butterflies” in our stomachs when we are nervous. How our gut feels often influences how we feel or perceive situations. How anxious we feel often effects how our stomach feels.

Many children, especially between the ages of 4 and 10 years, have recurrent abdominal pain. This pain rarely has a serious source or cause. But the children’s stomachs hurt and the pain makes them anxious. Also their anxiety makes their stomach hurt. As pediatricians we often do some preliminary screening tests to rule out disease but if those tests are normal and the child is growing well with normal stools then the next step is to try to decrease the anxiety in our patients. We can reassure the family and child that there is no serious illness going on. Which when you stop and think about it, is really good news. Most children will have the stomachaches off and on and the treatment will be to stay in school, use a benign medicine such as Tums and know that the pain will pass.

Making sure that your child is not constipated can help limit their pain. They should have a bowel movement at least every other day if not daily. Miralax or mineral oil and stool softeners can help achieve this stooling pattern. The family can pay attention to any foods that trigger a stomachache. Many children become lactose intolerant at these ages and will do better with cheese and yogurt, foods in which most of the lactose is broken down, than with milk. Many high fructose foods and candies can trigger stomachaches. These are chewy candies or fruit roll ups. In my house licorice was often the trigger.

While it is important to understand that we should take care of our gut it is also important not to obsess about everything we eat. There is new information that extreme diets or even restrictions of normal foods, i.e. gluten when the child does not have celiac, can harm our health.

Probiotics and meditation and other relaxation techniques can be helpful. Sometimes just practicing taking a few slow deep breaths can be soothing.

If there are many stressors in a child’s life or if the abdominal pain worsens, professional counseling can be helpful.

The main point is to listen to our guts, respect our guts, but do not worry too much about pain in an otherwise healthy person. A great 15 min TED talk about the gut can be found at the following link:

 

 

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