Objective: Recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) of childhood is a common problem encountered by clinicians. The aim of this study was to systematically review published literature about the prevalence, incidence, natural history, and co-morbid conditions of childhood RAP in western countries.
Methods: A computer-assisted search of MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Current Contents/Science Edition databases was performed. Study selection criteria included: (1) United States and European population and school-based samples of children; (2) diagnostic criteria of RAP; and (3) published in full manuscript form in English. Data were extracted, tabulated, and presented in descriptive form.
Result: The prevalence of RAP ranged from 0.3 to 19% (median 8.4; IQR 2.3-14.7). Published studies in children demonstrate a higher prevalence of RAP in females, with the highest prevalence of symptoms between 4 and 6 yr and early adolescence. Identified studies demonstrated associations between RAP and the child's familial and socioeconomic environment. In addition, childhood RAP was reported to be associated with psychological co-morbidity in childhood and adulthood. Population/school-based studies have not, however, established the incidence of this disorder, what features predict long-standing symptoms, or whether RAP is a risk factor for adult functional bowel disorders.
Conclusion: RAP is a common complaint of childhood with associated familial, psychological, and co-morbid conditions. Epidemiologic studies of RAP in children may offer information on the evolution of functional bowel disorders through the lifespan.