Chronic Functional Abdominal Pain: Causes and Treatment

Written by: Meenakshi Joshi – M.Sc (Applied Behavioural Analysis)
Last updated date : January 21, 2023

We all feel pain. It is very stressful when you have constant pain in some part of your body. Two such types of constant pain are Chronic Functional Abdominal Pain (CFAP) and Chronic Abdominal Wall Pain (CAWP).

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Chapter 1:

What Is Functional Abdominal Pain?

CFAP is continuous and frequent pain in the abdomen. In other words, frequent pain in the belly. The parts of the body that make up the abdomen are
  • stomach
  • large and small intestine
  • gallbladder
  • pancreas
  • liver

The features of Chronic Functional Abdominal Pain are

  • frequent pain that is present all the time or it may come and go
  • no abnormal x-ray or lab results that explain this pain
  • pain is present for 3 months or more
  • there is no cause that explains the pain
Warning Signs
When you first go to the doctor with pain, they will try to find out the cause. Pain could be because of some disorder you are having or a drug you have taken. A toxin or harmful substance can also cause this pain. In order to find the cause of this abdominal pain, the doctor will do a physical exam and run tests. Below are some warning signs that you should know
  • Firstly, frequent pain in the belly.
  • loss of hunger
  • weight loss
  • fever
  • swelling in the stomach
  • vomiting. Also, there might be blood in the vomit
  • diarrhea
  • jaundice

In other words, the abdominal pain is very disturbing. It can affect your day-to-day functioning. Also, this pain may almost take over your life. You will think about the pain all the time and won’t be able to deal with it at all. Children might miss school because the pain is unbearable. Adults may miss work due to this chronic functional abdominal pain.

After You See These Warning Signs
These warning signs might develop suddenly or slowly over time. When you have these symptoms for more than 2 or 3 days, you should see a doctor. Unless there is a direct cause that can explain the pain or signs. For example, you eating something that has caused this pain. So, if you ate shrimp for dinner and you might be allergic to seafood that the pain can be explained by the allergy. Or if you have changed your diet or started a new medicine, these may cause abdominal pain. In such cases, you can wait for a little while before you see a doctor. When you treat the cause, the pain will reduce. So, in the above case, taking an anti-allergy medication, or resting your stomach by eating bland food for a day can stop your stomach ache. Similarly, in the second example, going back to your normal diet or stopping the medicine can solve the problem.

However, if the pain does not reduce in a few days or you do not know or have a direct reason for the pain, you should see a doctor.

Chapter 2:

Causes of Chronic Functional Abdominal Pain

The exact cause is not known. This pain can be due to a variety of reasons. However, we don’t know exactly what has resulted in this disorder. But we do know that the nerves in the stomach area become oversensitive which means the nerves react quickly to a lot of sensations we get in the abdomen.

Some general or common causes are –

  • Allergy to milk and milk products or specific food groups
  • Infection in the stomach, gallbladder
  • Repeated injury to the stomach
  • Abdomen surgery
  • Stress and other psychological factors
  • Liver disorder
  • Indigestion or other such digestive problems
  • Physical or sexual abuse

The brain and gut connection is hampered. The signals that the brain and gut exchange are wrongly read. Hence, when there is even a small change or sensation in the gut or stomach area, the brain picks it up as “BIG CHANGE” and alerts the gut to react like there is a big sensation or change. The abdomen in turn becomes super sensitive and this causes severe pain.

Chapter 3:

What Is Chronic Abdominal Wall Pain?

Chronic Abdominal Wall Pain (CAWP) is also a disorder where you feel sharp and continuous pain in the abdomen. But this pain is more localised, i.e., the pain is limited to the abdomen wall. Some features of CAWP are
  • Chronic Abdominal Wall Pain is many-a-times misdiagnosed as abdominal pain. You might feel pain in the stomach area but not really know which part exactly. However, a doctor will be able to do a correct diagnosis by doing a physical exam. It is important to distinguish Chronic Abdominal Wall Pain from another type of chronic abdominal pain to save your time and energy (doing unnecessary lab tests and imaging scans).
  • Chronic Abdominal Wall Pain should be suspected when there is no other cause for the abdominal pain and the pain is in a specific area.
  • As compared to males, this type of pain occurs more in females.
  • Many-a-times, you might get CAWP because of lifting heaving objects or bending. Twisting or straining your body muscles might also result in such pain
  • Generally, if you are obese, you are more likely to get Chronic Abdominal Wall Pain
  • The main cause of CAWP is surgery or injury. If you have undergone abdominal surgery or had an injury on that body part, then you might get this pain as a result of the surgery or injury.
  • Other causes are nerves getting trapped in the abdominal wall and hernia.
Dealing with the Pain
You can treat Chronic Abdominal Wall Pain using some simple methods. The most important thing is to educate yourself. You will have less stress and anxiety if you know what you are going through. So, awareness and knowledge about the disorder can greatly help to make you feel better.

The treatment of Chronic Abdominal Wall Pain depends on how severe your pain is.

  • When you have low to moderate pain, simple things like changing your sitting position frequently can give you relief.
  • Massage and icing the area where you feel pain can help too.
  • For more severe cases, using nerve relaxing drugs or injections (which are given where you feel the pain) is useful.
  • You can even opt for surgery in extreme cases.

Chapter 4:

Treatment for Chronic Functional Abdominal Pain

As there is no specific cause for the pain, there is no sure shot treatment. The treatment is designed to target the related symptoms. You can have a specific or in most cases a combination of the following treatments.
  • If you are cannot digest milk, then you can have a dairy-free diet.
  • In case of constipation or diarrhea, take the necessary medicines.
  • You can take nerve relaxing drugs or injections to relieve pain.
  • As the cause could be psychological, therapy is effective. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy focuses on changing the thoughts that stress us out. Using such therapy can help you relax and deal with your emotions in a better way.
  • Family and friends are important. Developing a good and trusting relationship with family members and friends can help you deal with your tensions more positively. Social support is crucial will dealing with such disorders.
  • Anything that can reduce your anxiety helps! So, doing yoga, exercising, therapy, going out for a walk, meditation, relaxation techniques, etc. everything will help you deal with the pain better.

In the case of children, parents play a big role. Children need support to manage pain. the doctor might recommend diet changes – eating a high fibre diet is helpful. Also, parents need to help children avoid foods that trigger pain. Additionally, parents need to take care that their kids do not get anxious and are able to deal with their emotions in a good way.

Chapter 5:

Taking Care of Pain

Nobody can escape the pain. It is felt by everyone now and then. But living “in pain” all the time can completely ruin your life. Take an appropriate step on time to consult a doctor if you have constant pain. Taking treatment on time can help you manage pain. It can make your life better and you can get back to things that really matter to you. You can focus on more important things in life such as your family, career, hobbies, and passion.

Hence, taking care of pain is very essential. Do not hesitate to get help. If you need more help or guidance, please visit our course page. You will find some empowering courses there that can help you be a better you!

"Quick online learning, thanks!" Susan

92 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

$9.00 $12.00

25% discount