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Gastroenterology Research and Practice
Volume 2014, Article ID 524383, 11 pages
Review Article

Frequent Abdominal Pain in Childhood and Youth: A Systematic Review of Psychophysiological Characteristics

1Department of Psychology, Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Tübingen, Schleichstraße 4, 72076 Tübingen, Germany
2Department of Internal Medicine VI/Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, University Hospital Tübingen, Frondsbergstraße 23, 72070 Tübingen, Germany
3Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE), University of Luxembourg, Route de Diekirch-B.P. 2, L-7201 Walferdange, Luxembourg

Received 17 September 2013; Accepted 5 February 2014; Published 13 March 2014

Academic Editor: Peter James Whorwell

Copyright © 2014 Marco Daniel Gulewitsch et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Background. Frequent abdominal pain (AP) in children and adolescents is often designated as functional gastrointestinal disorder. In contrast to research on psychological and social influences on the experience of AP in this population, psychophysiological features such as function of the autonomic nervous system, the central nervous system, or the endocrine system have rarely been studied. Methods. We conducted a systematic literature search for peer-reviewed journal articles referring to children with AP between 4 and 18 years. Studies on experimental baseline characteristics or reactivity of psychophysiological outcome parameters (autonomous nervous system, central nervous system, and endocrine parameters) were included. Key Results. Twelve of 18 included studies found psychophysiological differences between children with AP and healthy ones. These studies indicate a possible autonomic dysregulation and hypersensitivity of the central nervous system in children with AP following stimulation with stress or other intense stimuli. Mainly conflicting results were found regarding baseline comparisons of autonomic and endocrine parameters. Conclusions and Inferences. Frequent AP in children may be associated with an altered psychophysiological reaction on intense stimuli. It has to be considered that the current literature on psychophysiological characteristics of childhood AP is small and heterogeneous. In particular, multiparameter studies using validated experimental paradigms are lacking.