, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 151-163

Functional Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Children with Anxiety Disorders

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Abstract

This study examined the incidence and correlates of functional gastrointestinal symptoms in children with anxiety disorders. Participants were 6–13 year old children diagnosed with one or more anxiety disorders (n = 54) and non-clinical control children (n = 51). Telephone diagnostic interviews were performed with parents to determine the presence and absence of anxiety disorders in children. Parents completed a questionnaire that elicited information about their child’s gastrointestinal symptoms associated with functional gastrointestinal disorders in children, as specified by the paediatric Rome criteria (Caplan et al., Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition, 41, 296–304, 2005a). Parents and children also completed a symptom severity measure of anxiety. As expected, children with anxiety disorders were significantly more likely to have symptoms of functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID), compared to children without anxiety disorders. That is, 40.7 % of anxious children had symptoms of a FGID compared to 5.9 % of non-anxious control children. Children with anxiety disorders were significantly more likely to have symptoms of functional constipation, and showed a trend for a higher incidence of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms compared to non-anxious control children. Furthermore, higher anxiety symptom severity was characteristic of anxious children with symptoms of FGID, compared to anxious children without FGID symptoms and non-anxious control children. Also, children with anxiety disorders, regardless of FGID symptoms, were more likely to have a biological family member, particularly a parent or grandparent, with a gastrointestinal problem, compared to non-anxious control children. The high incidence of FGID symptoms in children with anxiety disorders warrants further research on whether gastrointestinal symptoms reduce following psychological treatments for childhood anxiety disorders, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.