Although abdominal pain is a symptom of several structural gastrointestinal disorders (eg, peptic ulcer disease), this comprehensive review will focus on the 4 most common nonstructural, or functional, disorders associated with abdominal pain: functional dyspepsia, constipation-predominant and diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome, and functional abdominal pain syndrome. Together, these conditions affect approximately 1 in 4 people in the United States. They are associated with comorbid conditions (eg, fibromyalgia and depression), impaired quality of life, and increased health care utilization. Symptoms are explained by disordered gastrointestinal motility and sensation, which are implicated in various peripheral (eg, postinfectious inflammation and luminal irritants) and/or central (eg, stress and anxiety) factors. These disorders are defined and can generally be diagnosed by symptoms alone. Often prompted by alarm features, selected testing is useful to exclude structural disease. Identifying the specific diagnosis (eg, differentiating between functional abdominal pain and irritable bowel syndrome) and establishing an effective patient-physician relationship are the cornerstones of therapy. Many patients with mild symptoms can be effectively managed with limited tests, sensible dietary modifications, and over-the-counter medications tailored to symptoms. If these measures are not sufficient, pharmacotherapy should be considered for bowel symptoms (constipation or diarrhea) and/or abdominal pain; opioids should not be used. Behavioral and psychological approaches (eg, cognitive behavioral therapy) can be helpful, particularly in patients with chronic abdominal pain who require a multidisciplinary pain management program without opioids.
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