Management of functional abdominal pain

Yuri A. Saito, Jean C. Fox

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The diagnosis of functional abdominal pain should be made based on the Rome II symptom criteria with only limited testing to exclude other disease. During physical examination the clinician may look for evidence of pain behavior which would be supportive of the diagnosis. Reassurance and proper education regarding the clinical entity of functional abdominal pain is critical for successful treatment and good patient satisfaction. Education should include validation that symptoms are real, and that other individuals experience similar symptoms. No further treatment may be required for those with mild symptoms. For patients with more severe symptoms, a long-term management plan of either pharmacological or psychological treatments is warranted. This will require a commitment by both the patient and the physician to engage in a partnership with active involvement and responsibility by both individuals. The goal of treatment - to decrease pain and increase function over time, not to cure the disorder - should be explained. Strong consideration should be made for the use of an antidepressant to treat analgesic effects. Tricyclic antidepressants are the mainstay of therapy for functional pain disorders. The analgesic effect is generally quicker in onset and occurs at a lower dose than their effect on mood. To maximize patient compliance, patients should be told the rationale behind their use, warned of the potential side effects, and reassured that many of the side effects will disappear with time. Choice of an antidepressant should be based on the presence of concomitant symptoms (eg, depression), cost, and physician familiarity with specific agents. All patients with functional abdominal pain should be screened for underlying psychiatric disturbance as an untreated mood disorder will adversely affect response to treatment. If a concurrent mood disorder is found, it should be treated by either using a higher dose of the tricyclic antidepressant or by adding another antidepressant agent. Psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy may be important as adjuvant therapy or as an alternative to treatment with antidepressants for those patients who find antidepressants ineffective or are intolerant to them. Narcotics and benzodiazepines should not be used to treat chronic abdominal pain due to the high risk of physical and psychological dependence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-290
Number of pages12
JournalCurrent Treatment Options in Gastroenterology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology


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